September 14, 2015

How many Council staff? Who knows?

Last week published this article about the Council’s increase in staff numbers. It appears to paint a different picture regarding staff numbers to official information we received from the Council.

Auckland Council has around 200 more staff than it did last year, thanks to the city's rapid growth.

The council is about to release its annual report for the 12 months to June 2015, showing both its revenue and expenditure rose during the year.

This was because of Auckland's increasing population, council officers said.

The city grew by 45,000 people last year, up from an increase of 35,000 in 2014.

"Population growth has a direct impact on many of our our activities," Matthew Walker, general manager financial plan, policy and budget, said.

The council and its agencies, including Watercare and Auckland Transport, hired 208 more full-time equivalents (FTEs) in the 2015 year.

This amounted to an extra $63 million in staff costs, Kevin Ramsay, general manager finance, said.

Firstly, that statement must be incorrect. If the hiring of 208 additional staff members caused an increase in staffing costs of $63 million per annum, that means each of those new staff would be taking home an average salary of over $300,000! 

For example numbers of building consents went up 6 per cent in the year, meaning the council had to employ the equivalent of 42 more people in the building and resource consents areas to process them.

Auckland Transport, which oversaw big projects such as the rollout of the electric trains and the first full year of the integrated HOP passenger card, employed 116 more FTEs.

"That was a lot of people being brought on board just to increase that ability to deliver those services," Ramsay said.

Auckland Transport employed 116 more FTEs in part due to the introduction of HOP cards – cards which are supposed to automate transactions between customers and staff. With the introduction of a card to help streamline and automate services, ratepayers would expect staffing numbers to be reduced. Yet Auckland Transport seem to think the introduction of the simpler service is somehow justification for employing more people at the ratepayer’s expense!

Likewise water services provider Watercare employed 58 more FTES,  "just to literally serve, to operate, to maintain and deliver on that infrastructure".

There were also one-off events which required more staffing, such as the handling of a record number of submissions on the council's new 10-year budget, the Unitary Plan hearings currently being held, and the FIFA Under 20 and Cricket World Cups.

Nevertheless the council made an operating surplus of $80 million for the year, and its $2.2 billion spend on staff and suppliers was within budget, he said.

Staff numbers were still around 230 fewer than when the Auckland Super City was created five years ago.

Auckland Council can’t seem to get their story straight. Last month we received a response to an information request about staff numbers, which showed that the total FTE of the legacy councils was 9,430, while Auckland Council as at 30 June 2014 was 9,394 FTE.

The Council cannot seem to get their story right. On the one hand they are telling us that they employed 208 more FTE in the past year, which would take their total FTE up to 9,602. Yet on the other they are claiming that they employ slightly less FTE than the sum of the legacy councils (9,430).

Seems that the Council’s spinning, rather than giving ratepayers an accurate picture of staff numbers. That’s not good enough.