Open Letter to Mayor Brown
The Ratepayers’ Alliance has written to Mayor Brown and interim AT Chief Executive Mark Lambert requesting that AT come up with an alternative savings package to include in the Mayor’s budget proposal. The full text of our letter is as follows:
I write further to your draft proposal for the Annual Budget 2023/24 published on 5 December 2022. I note that Auckland Council staff have provided you with advice for cost savings options to address the near-term operating position.
The Ratepayers’ Alliance is concerned about the quality and integrity of this advice. In our opinion, Council-Controlled Organisations have set the parameters of your proposed savings package and provided you with a narrow range of options that maintain wasteful spending.
We are particularly concerned that Auckland Transport (AT) has told you it cannot find $25 million of savings without increasing fares by 6%. It has also told you that it cannot save an additional $25 million without reducing services by around 20%. These claims do not stand up to independent scrutiny.
Information we obtained under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA) suggests there is plenty of room for AT to find savings without the need for higher fares and service cuts. In the 2022 financial year, Auckland Transport spent $18 million on marketing alone, with a further $5 million on ‘communications and engagement’.
For comparison, the Auckland Council parent spends around $12 million on these activities and is looking to save $500,000 from discontinuing the Our Auckland magazine alone. AT employs 74 staff in its marketing department with an average salary of $93,346. It employs a further 40 staff in communications and engagement, with 22 earning over $100,000.
The marketing and comms teams at AT also spent around $2 million on consultant fees in the last financial year. It is unclear what value, if any, these consultants provided to a highly paid staff of 114. Not only is this corporate PR machine bloated, but it is also totally ineffective, and a drain on the public transport system.
Further, the Ratepayers’ Alliance is concerned by $42 million of operating expenditure that went to consultants in the last financial year. This figure excludes on-site contract staff and maintenance contractors. Of the $42 million, only $7 million went to ‘Service delivery’.
We suggest that there is much better use for that $42 million than paying consultants to crunch numbers and write reports. For example, $42 million could pay for 776 full-time bus drivers on an hourly rate of $26 per hour. Addressing the bus driver shortage once and for all would go a long way to solving Auckland’s billion-dollar congestion problem.
I have included the relevant information obtained under the LGOIMA for your consideration. We respectfully ask that you instruct AT to come up with an alternative savings package to include in your budget proposal before it goes to public consultation in March.
Josh Van Veen
Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance
CC Mark Lambert, Interim Chief Executive AT
Encl. LGOIMA responses