News

December 09, 2020

Complaint laid against Auckland Council for misleading financial markets

The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance has today lodged a  complaint with the Financial Markets Authority alleging a breach of the Financial Markets Conduct Act for a deceptive media statements on the size of a proposed rate increase made by Mayor Phil Goff and referred to in an announcement to the NZ Debt Market (NZDX) on the draft 10-year budget.

The Mayor misled the NZX Debt Market when he said that Aucklanders would only be hit with a rate bump of $36. The $36 is just the 1.5% difference between a 3.5% and a 5% hike. He was being cute with his words, and the media took it hook, line and sinker.

Unfortunately for Mr Goff, being misleading or dishonest is illegal when it comes to our financial markets. What he may get away with in statements made to the media does not cut it for financial markets.

Much of the reporting has perpetuated the Mayor’s falsehood of a ‘one off rates bump of $36’. It is evidence of the Mayor’s misleading behaviour.

Notes:

  • Auckland Council’s debt trades on the NZDX.
  • Under the Financial Markets Conduct Act 2013 participants are prohibited from conduct that is misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive (a similar test to the Fair Trading Act).
  • Earlier this year Auckland Council was required to correct an untrue statement in relation to claimed ‘majority support’ for an earlier proposed rates increase, following a complaint by the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance to the Research Association New Zealand (RANZ) pointing out that the opinion poll commissioned by the Council only provided participants with rate hike options.
  • Last year, Auckland Council officials presented sworn affidavit evidence that Mr Goff’s public claims that he had ‘banned’ two controversial Canadian speakers from Council venues in 2018 were untrue, in a judicial review related to that decision.

 

 

December 08, 2020

2020 Ratepayers’ Report shows how Auckland Council needs to cut rates

The 2020 edition of Ratepayers’ Report confirms that Auckland Council is charging the second highest rates in the country, with an average bill of $3,469 per rating unit. The Report was co-published by the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance and the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

Alliance spokesperson Monique Poirier says, “Auckland ratepayers have been fed a lie: annual rate hikes are not an inevitability. In fact, the latest Ratepayers’ Report suggests Auckland Council could even cut rates if it took cues from councils that run tighter ships.”

“Hamilton City Council’s rate bills are more than $1000 cheaper than Auckland’s. In fact, Grey District Council and Central Otago District Council get by charging half what our Council does.”

“There is no good justification for Auckland’s disproportionately high rates. Rates are a payment for services. Rubbish collection costs the same regardless of how valuable the local properties may be. If anything, a larger population base should see efficiencies in service delivery – that was the great promise behind the Super City.”

“Other findings from the Ratepayers’ Report make for concerning reading and go some way toward explaining why we pay so much in rates. 2831 Council staff are paid more than $100,000 – that’s 26 percent of all staff, compared to an average of 14 percent across all local councils. And the Council has been spending $830 per household just paying down the interest on its debt.”

“Despite all this, Auckland Council fails to include an accountant or lawyer on its Audit and Risk Committee which is meant to provide oversight of spending.”

Auckland Council also has the second highest level of liabilities per household – $25,372, behind only Christchurch. The figures in the 2020 Ratepayers’ Report are based on the 2018/19 financial year, and therefore do not reflect changes that all local councils have made to their budgets in light of COVID-19.

The full league tables are available now at www.ratepayersreport.nz.

September 16, 2020

Revealed: Auckland Council spends $129 million in six years on duplicated iwi consultation, targeted Māori spending

A new briefing paper co-published by the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance and Democracy Action reveals that in just six years, Auckland Council spent at least $129 million on iwi consultation and targeted Māori spending. In 2018/19 alone, the total spend was $30 million – more than double the $13 million spent in 2013/14.

This spending includes that of the Independent Māori Statutory Board, ‘Ngā Mātārae’, formerly ‘Te Waka Anga Mua ki Uta’, payments made by Auckland Council for consultation, payments made by Auckland Council Controlled Organisations, Long-term Plan allocations, and direct grants to iwi.

Ratepayers’ Alliance spokesperson Jo Holmes says, “Every dollar allocated to cultural advice, a marae development, or an unelected Māori authority is a dollar that cannot be used for the core council services that benefit all ratepayers."

"The function of Māori representation at Auckland Council is duplicated by at least six different Council mechanisms. Not one of these can be held to account by the general ratepayer who funds their operations.”

“Many Aucklanders will be supportive of some degree of race-based spending, but what this report uncovers is the extent of duplication and an alarming increase in costs. The Independent Māori Statutory Board was set up to promote issues of significance to Māori to Auckland Council, but we’re now paying eight times its budget because the Council undertakes the same function through other branches.”

“As the Council annually increases rates far beyond increases to living costs, including during an economic crisis, we’re calling for an urgent review into this non-essential spending.” 

Democracy Action spokesman Lee Short says, “A 2015 report by the NZ Institute of Economic Research showed that the Māori economy in Auckland is substantial – at around $4 billion of GDP with $23 billion of assets. This being so, the wisdom of Council contributing towards Māori economic development at ratepayers’ expense is questionable at best.”

“This paper is evidence that the interests of those who identify as Māori are being elevated above those of all other Aucklanders, thereby undermining the concept of equal rights upon which our democracy is based.”

July 24, 2020

Taxpayer Talk: Auckland’s water crisis – interview with Water Care CEO Raveen Jaduram

Auckland’s water crisis has been in the media over recent weeks, and the 2020 drought reminds us a lot of the water restrictions in 1994.  Auckland’s population is now 50% larger than 1994, has water infrastructure kept up?  Just how vulnerable are we to dry years?  Is the Waikato river the solution? 

Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director, and Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance Founder, Jordan Williams sat down with the CEO of Water Care Raveen Jaduram for a deep dive into Water Care - its business model, how it’s funded, and how it trades the risk of drought with affordability.

*** If you are struggling to pay your Water Care bill and need some assistance, including details on the Water Utility Consumer Assistance Trust is available at https://www.watercare.co.nz/Help-and-advice/Help-with-your-account/Need-help-paying-a-bill and http://www.waterassistance.org.nz ***

You can subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, iHeartRadio and all good podcast apps.

July 14, 2020

Is the Council really ‘cutting back’ or is the Mayor telling porkies?

This week the Council will make its final decisions on its emergency budget, but the Councillors claims that it is ‘cutting back’ don’t hold mustard. Last week, our Economist, Karan Menon, fact checked the Mayor and his Finance Deputy, Desley Simon in the Herald.  Here’s what he found:

The Mayor and Councillors are telling porkies…

Any analysis of Auckland Council's "Emergency Budget" shows the mayor and councillors' claims they are implementing austerity measures are simply not true.

Mayor Phil Goff says: "We are cutting costs wherever possible and finding savings and efficiencies where we can". Finance and Performance Committee Chair Desley Simpson has claimed: "We are cutting costs wherever possible and finding savings and efficiencies where we can".  

But despite the Mayor and Cr Simpson’s promises to cut spending, total expenditure is budgeted to increase by another five per cent in their so called ‘emergency budget’.

In relation to pay, the Mayor stated "If we put a voluntary pay freeze for the coming year – that is to be negotiated – that's about $8-9 million, the voluntary cuts around $3-4 million".

These numbers must be put in perspective. Of the total council staff, 86 are paid more than $250,000 a year, and 2831 – or 22% – are paid more than $100,000. The Council proposes a six-month voluntary pay reduction for these staff, but it is capped at just 5%. This would result in an estimated saving of just 0.3% of total council payroll costs.

Despite this saving and a "freeze" on recruitments, the “emergency budget” still proposes to increase the overall payroll budget.

Increasing expenditure from last year's level is not austerity. It is increasing the burden of the council on ratepayers at the very time households can least afford it.

As you can see, there is a gaping chasm between what the council is saying and what is actually proposed. In reality, there is no decrease in expenditure but instead an overall increase. The impacts of the proposed pay cuts are marginal, at best. As explained in Karan’s piece, projects the Council says are to "grow the economy" are generating a net cost, with the returns fading.

Now is the time to contact your local Councillors

If they choose to, councillors can freeze payroll and scrap Phil Goff’s rates increase. We’re asking you to take a minute to tell them to do just that.

Will you take a minute to email or call your local councillor and tell them you see through the Mayor and Councillor Simpson’s spin? They need the support of the other councillors to pass this budget.  The other councillors can force the necessary changes so rates can still be frozen – or not hiked during the current economic crisis.

Email the councillors or give your local one a call – after all they are supposed to represent you!

Forward this email, and add your own comments. The more voices the better.  The contact information is copied below.

And let's share the message

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Thank you for your support.

Councillors contact information:


Albany Ward

Councillor John Watson

Mobile: 021 287 5999
Email: [email protected]


Councillor Wayne Walker

Mobile: 021 882 861
Email: [email protected]


​Albert-Eden-Puketāpapa Ward

Councillor Cathy Casey

Mobile: 027 474 4231
Email: [email protected]


Councillor Christine Fletcher

Mobile: 027 276 0013
Email: [email protected]


​Franklin Ward

Councillor Bill Cashmore - Deputy Mayor

Mobile: 021 283 3355
Email: [email protected]


​Howick Ward

Councillor Sharon Stewart

Mobile: 021 282 1144
Email: [email protected]


Councillor Paul Young

Mobile: 021 194 7271
Email: [email protected]


​Manukau Ward

Councillor Alf Filipaina

Mobile: 021 280 0999
Email: [email protected]


Councillor Fa'anana Efeso Collins

Mobile: 021 242 6585
Email: [email protected]


​Manurewa-Papakura Ward

Councillor Angela Dalton

Mobile: 021 283 3311
Email: [email protected]


Councillor Daniel Newman

Mobile: 021 518 796
Email: [email protected]


​Maungakiekie-Tāmaki Ward

Councillor Josephine Bartley 

Mobile: 021 287 5599
Email: [email protected]


​North Shore Ward

Councillor Chris Darby

Mobile: 021 284 2888
Email: [email protected]


Councillor Richard Hills

Mobile: 021 286 4411
Email: [email protected]


​Ōrākei Ward

Councillor Desley Simpson

Mobile: 021 971 786
Email: [email protected]


​Rodney Ward

Councillor Greg Sayers

Mobile: 021 285 9900
Email: [email protected]


​Waitākere Ward

Councillor Shane Henderson

Mobile: 021 044 0088
Email: [email protected]


Councillor Linda Cooper

Mobile: 021 629 533
Email: [email protected]


​Waitematā and Gulf Ward

Councillor Pippa Coom

Mobile: 021 926 618
Email: [email protected]


​Whau Ward

Councillor Tracy Mulholland

Mobile: 021 195 7296
Email: [email protected]

 

June 06, 2020

Campaign launched to stop Auckland Council’s screwing of rates consultation

The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance has launched a major campaign to give a voice to the hundreds of thousands of Aucklanders who oppose Auckland Council’s proposed rate hike options.

In Auckland Council’s official consultation form for the Emergency Budget, ratepayers are told to choose between a rate hike of 3.5%, 2.5%, or an ‘I don’t know’ option. The message seems to be that if you oppose a rate hike you must be uninformed.

The Council’s plan is clearly to manipulate ratepayers into endorsing the lower 2.5% option so Phil Goff can claim public supports for his rate hike. That is an insulting attempt to fudge the consultation process and screw the scrum.

In response, the Ratepayers’ Alliance has published an alternative submission form at www.Rates2020.nz. This form poses the same question about rates, but adds additional choices: a zero rates increase, a 2.5% rates decrease, a 3.5% rates decrease, and an ‘other’ option. Ratepayers’ details and comments are sent straight to the Council as a formal submission.

Rates consultation

An economic crisis is the worst time to increase taxes – especially council rates, which unlike income taxes show no mercy towards households that have lost their livelihoods.

The Council cries poverty while it pays more than 2800 staff salaries higher than $100,000, and forges ahead with gold-plated projects like the City Rail Link. A zero rates increase is absolutely achievable, but Councillors must wrestle control of the Emergency Budget from self-interested officials, and sacrifice the nice-to-haves just like private businesses and households across the Super City have done already.

The campaign will be boosted with billboards, yard signs, Facebook ads, and (at this stage) 80,000 pamphlets delivered to homes across Auckland.

May 12, 2020

Phil Goff's office doesn't want Aucklanders to see this billboard

You will recall our proposed advert below which we proposed to run as double page spread in the Herald on Sunday. The Herald’s publishers got cold feet and delayed, and eventually rejected it for publication

No matter we thought – Stuff (publishers of the free local papers) told us they were happy to publish the advert. They even ran it past the Advertising Standards Authority which gave our Town Hall Rich List advert the green light.

So we were amazed when, again at the very last minute, Stuff too pulled the plug! The Council is too big an advertiser to jeopardise.

Double page spread

Morally obligated to spend the money we’d fundraised for advertising the Town Hall Rich List on advertising, we hoped to tell you this week that we were buying a billboard right outside the Council’s offices in the CBD.

But now we discover the extent of the skulduggery of Auckland Council. We were told last night that the Mayor’s Office has been calling around billboard companies demanding that our Town Hall Rich List billboards are not put up!

The Council has even lobbied the Outdoor Advertising Association to pass the message onto its members. The Association told us that the billboard companies are in ‘partnership’ with the Council – in that the Council dictate continued resource consents which the companies rely on. Naturally, billboard companies are reluctant to take on the Council’s heavies when they can veto future consents.

According to the industry association, the Council has never objected to an advertiser in this way. Clearly our Rich List got under Phil Goff’s skin!

Where to now?

I don’t know about you, but frankly I am appalled that the Council is using my ratepayer money to bully newspapers, and now billboard owners, so as to prevent us telling the public how the Council spends our money! 

What next? Will Phil Goff fly one of his highly paid staffers to Silicon Valley to demand Mark Zuckerberg ban our Facebook adverts too?? Already, the Town Hall Rich List has had 17,000 shares, comments, and reactions on Facebook.

Here’s the mock-up of one of the proposed billboards:

Phil Goff’s fibs

Phil Goff’s spin doctors are telling media companies that ‘most of the information in the Rich List is incorrect’. But we know for sure that isn’t true! The Council’s own audited financial information shows that there are 86 people paid more than $250,000. And even if we have the identities wrong for one or two of the 86 people, why haven’t we had a single person contact us to say that they were incorrectly put on the list?!

And if we are so wrong, why won’t the Council point to an error? It says a lot that the Mayor's Office is using such underhand tactics to try and undermine this effort. It shows the Council is really feeling the pressure. Good.

How we’ll fight back for you

Later this week our steering group is meeting to decide how to best get the message out. We’re still looking at other billboard options, letter drops, Facebook advertising, and combinations of all three. I’ll let you know once we’ve got everything lined up.

In the meantime, to chip in to our fighting fund to hold the Council to account for how it spends our money click here.

Thank you for your support.

 

May 04, 2020

Revealed: The Auckland Town Hall Rich List

The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance is pleased to present the inaugural Auckland Town Hall Rich List, revealing the names and salaries of the highest-paid staff at Auckland Council and its subsidiaries.

Click here to view the report.

This is an exercise in transparency and accountability. If someone is paid more than a Government Minister, ratepayers should at the very least know who they are and what they do.

Key findings:

  1. Eighty-six staff are paid more than $250,000.
  2. Fourty-eight staff are paid more than Mayor Phil Goff ($296,000) and seven are paid more than the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ($471,000).
  3. Seventy-one percent of identified rich listers are men. Of the six staff paid more than $500,000, all are men.
  4. Twenty-four of the rich listers are employees of Auckland Transport, 11 are from Watercare, six are from Regional Facilities Auckland, five are from ATEED, and five are from Panuku Development.

Research for the Rich List was undertaken in cooperation with the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union, who ultimately plan to publish Rich Lists for councils across the country – a practice undertaken in Britain since 2007 by the UK TaxPayers’ Alliance.

The UK Rich List makes for interesting comparisons. Essex County Council, which has a population similar to Auckland – about 1.4 million – pays 28 staff salaries higher than NZ$250,000, compared to Auckland Council’s 86.

The bureaucrats named in our list aren’t just well-paid – they enjoy a level of job security that insulates them from the current pressures facing Aucklanders who fund these high salaries through rates and levies, irrespective of their ability to pay.

Compiling this list was not easy. The Council and its CCOs preferred to provide remuneration ‘bands’ rather than exact salaries, so we have used the midpoints of these bands. The CCOs also refused to provide exact job titles, meaning some extrapolation was required to match names with salaries. The methodology at the end of this report explains further.

So, while we would prefer the Council to publicise this kind of information itself with more detail, we are releasing our best effort now in the hope that it will spark debate within the public and around the Council table.

The release of the Rich List comes as ratepayers’ livelihoods are threatened by the fallout of COVID-19. Despite this, Auckland Council is considering yet another rate hike of 2.5 or 3.5 percent. Our message to the Mayor is to look at costs within council before squeezing ratepayers during an economic crisis.

We welcome early reports of salary cuts planned for Council CEOs, but the Town Hall Rich List demonstrates these cuts can and must go far deeper.

Here's a condensed version of the Town Hall Rich List we plan to run as double-page newspaper adverts across Auckland. Click here to view the list in full resolution.

Rich List preview

This effort was made possible by our 20,000+ members and generous donors across Auckland who share our mission for Reasonable Rates, Sensible Spending in our Super City. Click here to receive our updates, or here to chip-in to the campaign.

April 29, 2020

The report Auckland Council don't want you to see

UPDATE: The Town Hall Rich List is now out! Click here to see the report.

Over the last few weeks, your humble Ratepayers’ Alliance have been in a battle with the Council over a report our researchers have been preparing: the ‘Auckland Town Hall Rich List’ naming the 86 – yes 86! – Auckland Council bosses paid more than a quarter of a million dollars.

Here's a flavour of the top Town Hall Rich Listers…

And there are 82 more!

To put that in context, if the Minister of Employment, Hon. Willie Jackson, was paid by Auckland Council his remuneration would be too low to put him on the list.

If Auckland Council officials are going to be paid more than Ministers in Wellington, at the very least we should know who they are and what they do! After all, it is our ratepayer money they’re paid with.

But not according to Auckland Council. You see, the Council is going to extraordinary lengths to prevent us from publishing the report. The Mayor’s office is ringing around the media demanding that no one cover it, are getting their favoured journos to try and rubbish our efforts in advance of publication1, and now we understand they are even calling in the lawyers!

Think about that for a moment. Auckland Council are using your money to prevent you being told where your money is going.

Copied below is our most recent letter to the Council’s CEO – so you can judge for yourself.

Help us defend your right to know

No wonder Auckland Council don’t want the report published. It demonstrates just how overpaid the Council’s fat cats are. And unlike everyone else, no one working at Town Hall is worried about losing their jobs right now.

The Council says that our report is “an unacceptable intrusion into the privacy” of council bosses. We say that once you are pocketing more than a Cabinet Minister, ratepayers have the right know about it.

Every Auckland ratepayer should know where their money is going. If you agree, donate today to ensure the Council can’t keep this secret.

Only with sunshine can we disinfect Auckland Council’s bloated bureaucracy.


Stephen Town
Chief Executive
Auckland Council 

Dear Stephen,

Inaugural Auckland Town Hall Rich List

We acknowledge your letter regarding the imminent publication of our Auckland Town Hall Rich List.

Last week our staff emailed the individuals listed on the Rich List.  We asked them to correct or clarify any of the information as it pertained to them. To date, none have contacted us to object to the publication of the information – indeed, I understand you responded by email with a minor correction to your own information.

Our researchers put together the Rich List based on official information responses provided to us by the Council and its CCOs, along with annual reports, and job title listings on Council websites and public social media. Some extrapolation was required to match names with salary bands but in most cases this could be done with certainty. If we can do it, anyone can. It is merely presenting public information in a more effective way. We simply added the extra step of asking those listed for verification.

So we totally reject your assertion that the Rich List is an “unacceptable intrusion into [the] privacy” of the individuals listed. These aren’t frontline or lowly paid anonymous staff. Without exception, those listed are in senior positions paid $250,000 or more per year – more than many Ministers of the Crown, and Chief Executives of some government agencies.

The public interest, and ratepayers’ right to know where their money is spent, cannot depend on the specific job titles.  Once you are paid quarter of a million dollars the public has just as much right to know who you are, and what you do, as it has the right to know about the details of an equivalent remuneration package for a public sector CEO.  You appear to believe transparency should depend on the structure and organisation of the public sector. We reject that.

In addition, the marginal impact on privacy with public disclosure that an individual is paid between $300,000 and $320,000 (as is already the case) and a precise figure of say $309,571, is slight. This is the point in our reference to the earlier Ombudsman decision.

Around three years ago, we made similar submissions to WaterCare in regard to a request for precise remuneration of its senior executive team. We could use mid-points within salary bands and judgements based on seniority of staff and relative positions. We asked Water Care for the precise amounts. No member of WaterCare’s senior management group objected, and we were provided the precise amounts.

Rather than genuine concerns for privacy, we fear that your strong reaction is more likely explained by the political embarrassment Auckland Council must have in the share volume of staff on such high salaries. That is understandable. But we make no apology for publishing the collated information with full knowledge that many ratepayers will be outraged at what it shows.

This sort of scrutiny should be expected.  In Britain this debate is settled – our sister group, the UK TaxPayers' Alliance has been publishing its own Town Hall Rich List annually since 2007, and the sky has not fallen.

In Britain, public disclosure of specific salary information for highly paid employees was essential for gender equality groups to expose differences in gender pay at public sector organisations.  Without these sorts of efforts, the public outcry and corrections of the enormous pay disparities between male and female hosts working for the BBC would never have occurred. We are aware of separate efforts to uncover this sort of information for similar purposes in New Zealand. I understand Auckland Council has resisted those efforts too.

You will recall that there was strong reaction the first time we published our local government league tables, Ratepayers’ Report. Reactions within the sector even saw the President of your peak body, Dave Cull, emotively describe the Taxpayers’ Union as untruthful in public comments about the league tables – an allegation he later withdrew, apologised for, and made a significant payment to the Taxpayers’ Union in relation to.

Now that the dust has settled, councils around New Zealand use our annual league tables to benchmark performance and Stats NZ has adopted aspects of our research methodology on residential rates for the purpose of CPI calculations.

As with the league tables, we have provided the draft Town Hall Rich List data to Auckland Council for verification and feedback. If it's not accurate, then work with us to improve it - or accept that your lack of transparency forces us (and all ratepayers) to make extrapolations and informed guesses.  If it has errors (in particular if we have misidentified a staff member) tell us the specifics, so we can correct the report immediately.

But we are not going to hold off publication because of faux outrage, or vague claims that we have something wrong.

Summary

Without exception these individuals are paid more than many government ministers. They enjoy job security greater than just about every employee in the private sector right now. Their generous salaries are funded by the ratepayers we represent. Even your letter acknowledges an acceptance that there is a degree of public interest in transparency and accountability for the value the Council attributes to the carrying out of senior roles. Our report does little more than collate publicly available information on those values.

If you wish to provide clarification of the amounts (or, at least, inform your staff that they are permitted to engage with our researchers should they wish) please ensure we receive the information before mid-day Friday. We will be publishing shortly after that.

Yours sincerely,
Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance