Things might have been a bit quiet in the world of politics as we await tomorrow's release of the final election results, but like rust, the waste and rot at town halls and in Wellington unfortunately never sleeps! In this week's Taxpayer Update, we tackle some town halls, and reveal the new job Grant Robertson's been lining himself up for...
Wellington City Council's town hall debacle 🏦
Too often, town halls are known for wasting money, but Wellington seems to be taking this as a challenge.
Wellington's Town Hall seismic upgrade that was supposed to cost $42 million back 2014 is now set to have a bill of an eye-watering $329 million after councillors voted to approve, yet again, another cost blowout.
To put $329 million in perspective, that's $4,383 per ratepayer!
This decision was taken in haste after councillors were given just days to consider plans. But according to Wellington's Dominion Post newspaper, it seems the Council's Chief Executive, Barbara McKerrow, had known for months about the spiralling costs yet decided to hide this info from elected representatives.
What's incredible about these cost blowouts is that they were preventable. Before work started to replace the Town Hall's foundations, no one thought to look properly at the state of the land it sits on!
Our policy guru James was interviewed by Waatea News on the debacle here. <[link removed]>
But Cloak-and-Dagger Council still evading scrutiny 🤐
And it isn't just McKerrow who has been keeping secrets. It's now public that Mayor Tory Whanau had a clandestine meeting with the US owners of Reading Cinema where it is alleged she pledged $32 million to buying the land under the cinema.
Even after this year’s 12.3% rates surge, an independent report by financial experts Castalia predicts Wellington City Council will blow its budget by [double checks notes] $1 billion.
Per household, that's $13,323.
Rather than committing to using ratepayers’ money to patch up the city’s crumbling pipes and roads, Whanau’s backroom dealings saw her promising tens of millions to prop up a foreign company which, at worst, would sell a cinema. It's not the historic Embassy Theatre, it's literally a commercial cinema whose owner saw their global revenue increase 14% last year.
And (you really coundn't make this up!), our old friend Barbara McKerrow has worked with the Mayor to launch disciplinary proceedings against councillors who had the gall – the sheer brazenness – to think that the public had a right to know how their money is being wasted!
Demanding Accountability: McKerrow’s got to go 👋🚪
It's never nice calling for someone to be sacked. But if public sector accountability is to mean anything, McKerrow has to go. <[link removed]>
McKerrow's approach to undermining democratic accountability is not even new. Last year, she took it upon herself to deny councillors access to legal advice that the Council had commissioned (and ratepayers paid for) and earlier this year suggested a councillor might not be able to vote on the Annual Plan because he had had the temerity to help his constituents submit on the public consultation.
It’s elected officials that are in charge – not bureaucrats – or at least, it should be. It's high time Wellington City’s elected representatives took their authority back and that starts with getting rid of the Chief Executive.
>>> Sign the petition calling for the Council to sack Barbara McKerrow here << <[link removed]>
Better late than never: Chief Ombudsman slaps down councils for secret workshops 🤫🗳️
If only it was just Wellington City Council having meetings behind closed doors. After concerns about so-called 'workshops' at Rotorua Lakes Council where discussions between councillors and officials about all manner of policies take place behind closed doors, the Chief Ombudsman undertook an investigation.
This is something we've been on about for years. Back in 2016 Jordan was quoted in Stuff on the same behaviour at Hamilton City Council <[link removed]>:
NZ Taxpayers' Union executive director Jordan Williams was very concerned with the number of secret meetings at councils nationally.
"This sort of secrecy is damaging local democracy. We have found that these gatherings are often where the more questionable spending is approved. The secrecy is used as a tool to implicitly approve controversial spending measures which can be blamed on officials if and when the public find out.
"It appears that 'CEO briefings', 'workshops' and other synonyms are being used to get around the definition of 'meeting' under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act. That act requires a presumption of meetings being open to the public, with minutes and agendas being publicly available."
Time and time again councils argue that no decisions are taken in the meetings, but it's where officials deliver bad news and stitch up deals and agreements before formal votes are taken at the meetings the public are allowed to attend. The whole basis of local democracy is that – except in exceptional circumstances – the information provided to councillors is made available in public forum.
After years of our highlighting the issue, the Chief Ombudsman has finally taken action with both a strong rebuke of the practice and a directive that these type of workshops should be 'open by default'. As reported by Radio NZ: <[link removed]>
The chief ombudsman is "deeply concerned" about Rotorua Lakes Council's commitment to transparency, after investigating closed-door workshops <[link removed]>.
The council had a history of opposition to openness that appeared to continue, chief ombudsman Peter Boshier said.
He quoted a former mayor saying "absolutely no way", in response to a suggestion the public be allowed to attend council sessions.
Boshier is now calling for all councils to open workshops by default.
This is right in law, and in principle. We say the public has a right to know how decisions to spend their ratepayer money are made. Your humble Taxpayers' Union will be keeping a very close eye on how councils respond, and adhere to the new directive. After all, sunlight is the best disinfectant. <[link removed]>
Latest Public Service figures: Christopher Luxon needs to confront the scale of the problem: 👨💼👩💼
The just released workforce data from the Public Service Commission is not pretty reading for taxpayers. <[link removed]>The number of public servants at its highest ever with managers growing at three times the rate of frontline staff!
In the past year, the number of managers grew by 5.4%, while the number of social, health and education workers grew only marginally by 1.9%.
The figures are case in point that just pouring more money into failing public services does not work when there is no accountability for how that money is spent or what outcomes are delivered for it.
The eye-watering levels of growth in the Wellington bureaucracy, nearly 16,000 since 2017, are an insult to the millions of taxpayers who work tirelessly each day only to see their money wasted away on the managerial class while core services crumble.
While the blame for this growth sits squarely with the outgoing Government, if the incoming one does not take immediate action to reverse this growth and improve delivery, then things will only continue to get worse. For the sake of our future, it is vital that National ensures its promises to cut wasteful spending were not hollow words. In fact, they must go even further.
New Zealand simply cannot afford another three years of the failed experiment of big, inefficient, wasteful government.
Did Grant’s Parisian Adventure jinx the World Cup Final? 🇫🇷👻
After Sunday morning’s disappointing result, taxpayers have been hit by a second blow with the decision (supported by old Chris and new Chris) to send outgoing Sports Minister, Grant Robertson, to attend the Rugby World Cup final, to "represent" the NZ Government. <[link removed]>
At a time when every extra cent of spending is being borrowed, and Kiwis are feeling the cost-of-living crunch, we say this kind of extravagance isn't justified.
But rather than complain, here at the Taxpayers' Union we believe that if Grant Robertson gets to see the All Blacks, so should you!
So, Friend, I'm delighted to announce the official Grant Robertson 'Guess and Go' Competition <[link removed]>.
Win free tickets to see the All Blacks next year! 🏉🎁
To bring attention to how much the trip is likely to cost taxpayers, a generous supporter has agreed to sponsor two tickets to see the All Blacks in New Zealand next year for the person who gives the closest guess to the total cost of Grant’s outrageous overseas jaunt.
Enter the competition here to be in to win <[link removed]> – and feel free to forward to friends and family to enter too!The competition is open to any New Zealand taxpayer who is a fan of the ABs, lower taxes, less waste, and more accountability – so pretty much, everyone! <[link removed]>
Speaking of Grant Robertson 👀 (Please keep this to yourself!) 🤫
Our usually reliable sources in Wellington tell us that Grant Robertson hasn’t let travel get in the way of his hunt for a new job. We understand the soon-to-be-former Minister of Finance is short-listed to be the new Vice Chancellor of Otago University.
While we’ve had our differences of opinion with Mr Robertson, here at the Taxpayers’ Union we wish him the very best of luck. After all, Grant Robertson knows a thing or two about borrowing money to keep a massive bureaucracy afloat that is running unsustainable deficits. He’ll fit right in… <[link removed]-‘considerable’>
Taxpayer Talk: Michael Reddell on the declining standards in New Zealand public life 🎙️🎧
This week onTaxpayer Talk, Jordan sits down with economist Michael Reddell, a former Head of Financial Markets at the Reserve Bank of New Zealand who has worked for central banks of a number of other countries.
Michael raised concerns around the decline of standards in New Zealand public life. Whether it be Ministers lying to the public, government contracts going to Ministers’ family members or undisclosed shareholdings, Michael is concerned that these instances of inappropriate behaviour are becoming increasingly excused, justified or ignored by politicians and the media.
Michael also worries about the ease with which politicians have been able to quickly move into highly-paid private sector positions, particularly those in sectors where the Government has a significant influence on their success such as banking. For the sake of public trust, we need systems in place that let the public have confidence that former politicians are behaving appropriately.
Listen to the episode on our website <[link removed]> | Apple <[link removed]> | Spotify <[link removed]> | Google Podcasts <[link removed]> |iHeart Radio <[link removed]>
Thank you for your support.
COO and Head of Campaigns
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.
The Conversation NZ Election 2023: polls understated the right, but National-ACT may struggle for a final majority <[link removed]>
NZ Herald Did the pollsters get it right in the 2023 election? <[link removed]>KiwiblogHow the polls look vs provisional results <[link removed]>
The Platform David Farrar shares his thoughts on the 2023 general election results <[link removed]>NZ Herald Election 2023 result: Anatomy of Labour’s collapse, from unprecedented support to devastating loss in three years <[link removed]>The Daily BlogBest & Worst of Election 2023 <[link removed]>RNZWeek in Politics: The 'multiple reasons' why Labour lost so badly <[link removed]>NewsroomOn water reform National and Act are sailing on same course <[link removed]>Newsroom Chiding in plain sight <[link removed]> <[link removed]>Waatea NewsJames Ross / Taxpayers Union <[link removed]>NZ Local Government MagazineGiving kids the vote <[link removed]>
Offsetting Behaviour Charting a course <[link removed]>NewsroomThree Waters assets to move to new council-owned companies <[link removed]>The SpinoffDavid Seymour’s media silence is a relief. It’s also deafening <[link removed]>Newstalk ZBThe Huddle: How much influence do pre-election polls have? <[link removed]>
The KakaWednesday's Chorus: An impossible trinity <[link removed]>
RNZ What stands in the way of the ACT Party plan for a referendum on the Treaty of Waitangi <[link removed]>
Newsroom Chiding in plain sight, Part II <[link removed]>
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union Inc. - 117 Lambton Quay, Level 4, Wellington 6011, New Zealand