National News

National News is brought to you by a partnership between Crux and RNZ News 

Auckland mayor forms committee to target 'stupid' council spending

Aug 02, 2023

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown is complaining about what it costs to run the city, including paying for lawyers, accountants and consultants, and even core services like building footpaths and roads.

And Brown says it is not just Auckland Council that needs to cut back its "ludicrous spending", but the government too.

In an opinion piece for the New Zealand Herald on Tuesday, Brown railed against "consultant spend for big projects in Auckland like the Waitematā crossing and light rail studies", which he said were not needed "for a long time" and research "we don't even want".

One example he cited was $90,000 paid to "one of the dreadful big four accounting firms" for options regarding a new retirement village, saying the same advice could have been procured over "a couple of beers with a competent real estate agent".

Brown told RNZ's Morning Report on Wednesday he will put in place a revenue expenditure and value committee, chaired by former National MP and current Howick Ward Councillor Maurice Williamson, "to carry out reviews of service and financial performance of individual council departments".

"I expect them to put [together] a programme of public hearings at which councillors can scrutinise the spending and performance of individual partners, a bit like reviews undertaken in Parliament."

The first-term mayor, who campaigned on cutting "wasteful" spending and getting big projects like the City Rail Link "back on track and finished", said it was not just spending on white-collar professional services that was annoying him, but the cost of building things like raised crossings and cycleways.

"We have cycleways that cost $20,000 a metre when they can probably do them for about $500, if you think about it. We've had proposals for walkways that have been ludicrously over-specified. We just don't have the whole DNA of doing things better, faster, cheaper, and I'm trying to get people to think better, faster, cheaper, cheaper, cheaper, cheaper."

During last year's local government election campaign, Brown complained about Karangahape Road's cycleway costing $12,000 a metre, saying it could have been done for $200.

Auckland Transport's head of cycling Adrian Lord recently told The Detail the money was not only spent on the cycleway itself, but reworking the entire street, including underground work, widened footpaths, planted areas and lighting.

Only about 1 percent of Auckland Transport's 10-year budget was allocated towards cycling projects. In 2021, Auckland Transport's cycleway construction plan was criticised for costing about eight times more per kilometre than similar plans in Wellington.

Other spending Brown wanted to slash included "eye-watering legal bills" on water tightness claims for "buildings that have gone up some years ago", blaming the government for not legislating "to get us out of that"; "raised pedestrian crossings that cost 300,000 each"; "Three Waters bombs"; and money "going to the big [accounting firms] just because they're there".

"Right across the bureaucracies, both council and government, and even some of the large private firms, but nobody's really giving a sniff-test check to every piece of money that's spent…

"Everything has to be justified, you know? Pressure has to come everywhere if you're going to reduce costs and it's got to be right across the mechanism. There will be times when consultants make sense, but there's quite a lot of times when they don't."

Brown said if officials were publicly "embarrassed" by their "stupid" spending, it might be cut back.

"We're gonna start running almost like open hearings of various departments where they have to appear in front of us at like, a hearing, and in front of an expenditure control committee who will just quiz them about everything."

Brown's first budget as mayor saw rates go up 7.7 percent.

Main image (RNZ/Marika Khabazi): Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown. 

Advertise with Crux Advertise with Crux