A softly, softly approach to CCOs

Opinion by Councillor Cameron Brewer
In the first round of the Auckland Council’s draft 2013/14 budget passed at today’s Strategy & Finance Committee, it was disappointing only $10.4m was cut from the CCOs collective draft operational budgets. Nothing was cut from the Mayoral Office budget, nor were any of his massive debt-funded pet projects put up to be trimmed.

There is growing public concern at the cost and power of the council-controlled organisations. Yet today the Mayor only proposed relatively nominal cuts from these massive departments. He should’ve gone in harder. Rather, he’s gone for the softly-softly approach and is tip toeing around them.

There’s a lot of fat in the CCOs which soak up a lot of council’s annual $3b operational budget. For starters they collectively employ 564 people who earn over $100,000 which includes 82 people who earn over $200,000, according to the 2011/12 Annual Report.

It’s also disappointing that the Mayor blankly refuses to reconsider any of his big capital expenditure project priorities.

He’s gone around cutting the council’s operational expenditure, which in parts will affect service levels such as no longer mowing council-owned roadside berms in the former Auckland City area. Today all those cuts were endorsed, without even looking at the bigger picture first.

The Mayor really needs to focus on some of his massive capital projects that will drive council’s debt escalation which is already nearly $3m a day. For example we’re set to spend $180m next year alone on the City Rail Link, without any Government commitment whatsoever. Let’s have another look at that for starters.

Today a majority of councillors signed off a raft of cuts and additions for the draft 2013/14 budget. I argued that instead of focusing on the ‘rats and mice’ at the start of the eight-month budget process, the Mayor should have gone in hard on the big CCOs, put all his multi-billion dollar pet projects and promises on the table, and offered up some savings from his own office.

The Mayor has shown his hand. He’s keen to keep average rates increases relatively low, but at the cost to some core council departments and services, as well as increasing many regulatory fees on Aucklanders.

Ratepayers will be disappointed that the Mayor’s own office’s budget remains untouched, the CCOs have got off way too lightly, and no one’s allowed to touch the Mayor’s pet projects.