05 October 2016

Cameron Brewer leaves office with a message for fellow councillors

East & Bays Courier – 6 October 2016 – By Mary Fitzgerald:

Outgoing Orakei ward councillor Cameron Brewer hopes for a less defensive council in the next term.

At his final council meeting on September 29, centre-right Brewer gave his valedictory speech to the governing body.

In his six years in office, Brewer has been a vocal critic of left-leaning Mayor Len Brown.

During his speech he made no apology for publicly holding the Mayoral Office, the Independent Maori Statutory Board, and council controlled organisations to account and called them out on some of their spending decisions.

Regarding council matters Brewer said, “it has become increasingly and unnecessarily involved in micro-managing it’s reputation … [I hope] with a fresh mandate next month that this organisation becomes much less defensive, more trusting, and open to all”.

Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse had plenty of praise for her fellow councillor on the opposite side of the political spectrum.

“There is no doubt Cameron was a strong contributor to debate at council meetings,” she said.

“He positioned himself as opposition councillor to the mayor.

“He was focussed on problems and it would have been good if he had been able to offer solutions and lead projects, but Rodney may be a good opportunity for him to do this,” Hulse said.

Brewer became an established eastern suburbs personality during his five-year chief executive tenure with the Newmarket Business Association in the heady consumer-driven frisson prior to the global financial crisis.

In 2010 he stepped away from the business association position to challenge the Orakei ward’s Citizens and Ratepayers deputy leader Doug Armstrong.

Brewer caused upset amongst the party faithful, standing as an independent challenging the establishment Citizens and Ratepayer stalwart.

He won the seat with a total of 18,228 people voting for him, making him the fifth highest polling Auckland councillor.

Brewer described his 2010 political campaign to win the Orakei seat as “pretty much a one-man band as people quickly observed, but I managed to gather the public on my side and for that I will always be grateful”.

He was re-elected unopposed in 2013. “He has certainly been a passionate representative for Orakei and he represented the local board well,” Hulse said.

Brewer is a Massey University graduate in history.  Previously he has worked as press secretary for former Auckland City Mayor John Banks, and former ACT leader Rodney Hide.

He also spent two years as former Prime Minister Dame Jenny Shipley’s political press secretary.

Brewer did not seek re-election for the next term for the Orakei seat, having moved to the Helensville electorate. He is standing for a seat on the Rodney Local Board.

During his speech he reflected on his major achievements, saying he was pleased with the role he played shining light on Auckland Council’s rising debt levels and annual interest bill, and the significant rates for some areas.

He also mentioned highlighting the Uniform Annual General Charge and ensuring it was debated annually, the call to honour a nearly 20-year commitment of narrowing the business rating differential, and challenging the ever-decreasing amount of detail around the operational budget.

During his time as Orakei councillor Brewer has worked on bringing the construction of a new Meadowbank Community Centre closer, secured new transport-related project funding, and helped toward convincing councillors that council needed to buy the 19-hectare sports ground, Colin Maiden Park, in St Johns.

The Orakei ward covers the city’s eastern suburbs including Remuera, Meadowbank, St Johns, Stonefields, Orakei, Mission Bay, Kohimarama, St Heliers and Glendowie.

 – Stuff

 

29 September 2016

Cameron Brewer – Valedictory speech notes

Speech notes: Thursday, 29 September 2016:

Six years ago I was racing around the Orakei ward trying to out-campaign the establishment’s anointed council candidate. My campaign was pretty much a one-man band as people quickly observed, but I managed to gather the public on my side and for that I will always be grateful.

For me today’s primarily about acknowledging you my colleagues, my friends, family and members of the public for keeping my chin up, humouring me and encouraging me. Unlike Parliament where it’s so inherently tribal, being a Super City councillor can be a lonely place at times, but all the pluses have well outweighed any negatives.

My first real insight into how politics can work came nearly 22 years ago when as a newly-elected tertiary student president, I convinced the student committee of the day to pay me for editing a new student publication that I’d established no less. And even better it was the one vote from my first cousin on that committee that ensured I got the monthly pay cheque. At that point I fully understood the considerable opportunities politics presents!

It has been a lot of fun and a real privilege to sit among so many local government luminaries over the past six years, to be a part of Auckland municipal history with the amalgamation, and to watch our city prosper at so many levels. I’ve made speeches in different parts of the country and have met so many talented people.

I was proud to chair the inaugural Business Advisory Panel, the Planning & Urban Design Forum, and this term serve as deputy chair of the Ngati Whatua Orakei Reserves Board. I’ve enjoyed a lot of the committee work, particularly the annual budget rounds and the two Long Term Plans we collectively worked on in 2012 and 2015.

The exhaustive Unitary Plan process we’ve all just gone through gives us each a unique and pretty comprehensive insight as to where this region is heading in the coming decades. In the end I believed we landed in a quite an even handed place and I was pleased to support it. I was also pleased I wrote those articles in the New Zealand Herald and Fairfax late last year awakening the public’s attention to the out-of-scope changes that were being slipped through, hitting the Eastern suburbs the hardest. While throwing out those out-of-scope changes later was a small victory to democracy and good process – bigger than that I actually believe meeting the public’s demands in March has helped us secure the wider acceptance of the Unitary Plan more recently.

I am also pleased of the role I have played since day one on shining light on Auckland Council’s rising debt levels and annual interest bill, the significant rates for some areas, the importance of the UAGC and ensuring it was debated annually, the call to honour a nearly 20-year commitment of narrowing the business rating differential, and challenging the ever decreasing amount of detail we get around our operational budget. I have also taken annually to compiling and releasing the council’s wage and salary and staff numbers, and last year was unsuccessful at trying to hold the wage bill.

I also don’t make any apology for publicly holding the likes of the Mayoral Office, the IMSB, and our CCOs to account and calling them out on some of their spending decisions.

Remember the empty trams going around and around Wynyard Quarter at huge expense, remember the $60m on comms and marketing for the first two years alone, remember the $10.5m staff travel bill for the first two years, remember the Ombudsman investigating my complaint over the council’s secrecy on how much it pays individual legal firms, remember the fight over the V8s after the Hamilton fiasco, and remember the rubbishing I got when I dared to publicly suggest that the Waterfront and Auckland Transport would struggle to cope with the opening night of the Rugby World Cup. The $20m for whitewater rafting, statements about and letters to the Auditor General over the City Rail Link’s cost uncertainties and ratepayer exposure, that Motion of No Confidence, and of course the Living Wage.

My amendment this term which effectively kicked the Living Wage for touch was won 11/10. It has not only saved ratepayers millions of dollars but importantly it has protected jobs in competing businesses throughout the region. If this matter is ever raised again, all I ask is that the council takes its time and consults widely. It might sound great, but given Auckland Council is the biggest show in town it has significant and wide implications for others.

For now that’s history, but I do take comfort in the fact that those of us who over the years have questioned public policy, the silly spending, pushed for greater accountability, and raised genuine concerns publicly have without doubt helped ensure a more disciplined and prudent organisation and that is a great outcome for Auckland ratepayers.

The ability for councillors to be able to openly challenge the organisation and the mayoralty must be maintained. We have a ‘strong mayor’ model where he or she has executive powers, leads the budget, policy and planning processes, and decides the deputy mayor, committee makeup, and chairs. That is all and powerful and whoever is Mayor and whatever their majority, the political leadership needs to be constantly challenged to ensure ongoing accountability, transparency for Aucklanders, and ultimately better decision-making and a stronger visible democratic model. Ratepayers deserve nothing less.

In the last three years, with the organisation struggling in its wider public perception, I strongly believe it has becoming increasingly and unnecessarily involved in micro-managing its reputation. Dare I say, when it becomes harder for some media, organisations, and councillors to get information than other media, organisations and councillors, then a public organisation has become too political. I am hoping with a fresh mandate next month that this organisation becomes much less defensive, more trusting, and open to all.

I believe the mayor and councillors need to place greater emphasis and allow more time on the initiating and authoring of the Letters of Expectation we send our CCOs and the resulting Statements of Intents. That is the only way and the only chance we can really direct and control our massive CCOs. I have enjoyed sitting on the CCO Governance and Monitoring Committee. A small victory last year when approving our Governance Manual for the Substantive CCOs was to stamp out the suggested directive that ‘councillors WILL advise CCOs if they are approached by media to speak about a CCO-related issue’. Councillors should never be afraid of bringing the work of our CCOS into the political and public arena, and should never have to seek permission to do so.

One of the reasons I’ve been able to helpfully assist this council with its public relations so frequently over the years, is I have had a very strong local board serving the Orakei ward on local issues, projects, and services. In fact, the same seven people have served that board for the past six years, with some good local people now lining up to replace the four stepping down.

I want to acknowledge chair Desley Simpson, the relentless work she has done throughout the Orakei ward, and the respect she has garnered across the political divide and region. I wish her every success next month and beyond.

Locally I was proud to start the first term brokering a meeting between the St Heliers developer of Turua Street and concerned community leaders over those doomed art deco cottages. That went a long way to building some good will and for the community to better understand the developer’s case and plans.

I have been pleased to bring the Meadowbank Community Centre to the budget table year in year out and fight for a new centre to be funded, as well as advocate for budget to unleash the Tamaki Drive Masterplan. I’m hopeful both will be funded in the 2018 Long Term Plan.

I was also pleased to secure a commitment around assessing the feasibility of a future Selwyn Rail Station in Pourewa Valley, successfully support the Orakei Local Board in its advocacy over the council’s $60m purchase of Colin Maiden Park from the University of Auckland, as well as helped to secure a few local wins around the unitary plan and raise public awareness of its local impact.

I demanded assurances when it came to the likes of Special Housing Areas, local stormwater issues, and fronted the successful push-back on the Quay Street boulevard plan which would’ve only slowed commuter traffic. And I railed against the initial plan to get rid of domestic open fire places which has since been dropped. You can also blame for me for inciting the whole berm debate. Those were the days indeed!

When it comes to bringing the Orakei’s issues, priorities and projects to the Governing Body, the Orakei Local Board and I have worked well together – on message and singing from the same song sheet, which is not always a given for a councillor and local board.

Orakei’s 10 suburbs are well served by some strong residents’ associations who I want to acknowledge and three great BID areas or business associations: Remuera managed by Laura Carr; Ellerslie managed by Megan Darrow and St Heliers managed by Wendy Caspersonn. Our BID leaders regionwide do a lot of work in the community on our behalf and council’s relationship with them needs to strengthen.

I want to also acknowledge the hardworking local MPs I’ve worked alongside: The late Allan Peachey, Simon O’Connor, Rodney Hide, John Banks, David Seymour, Paul Goldsmith and Sam Lotu-Iiga.

I have remained committed to the centre-right and so let’s just say these MPs have been relatively easy to work with. I have also worn my heart on my sleeve at local body election time, always there for the greater cause and always prepared to publicly support the centre-right candidates from the mayoralty down.

Thank you to the Executive Leadership Team, council management and Democracy Services in particular for support over the past six years which has dramatically increased for councillors since 2010.

I could now go around the table and talk you all up but I will just single out three people:

Dick Quax fought his hardest race over the past three years and has won. And this is the gold that Dick really needed to win! His philosophical outlook yet determined attitude to just get on with his work and life has been admired by us all, and the people of Howick. We look forward to the 50th anniversary of Montreal and many many more with you Dick and Sir John Walker.

Denise Krum has also had to face some worrying health issues in her immediate family not to mention changing personal circumstances for herself. All as a brand new councillor. But testament to Denise’s strength will be reward the good people of Maungakiekie-Tamaki deliver her next month – a reflection of her continued focus and hard work over the past three years.

Mr Mayor, apart from the debt, thank you for all you have secured Auckland. You’ve done well to bring the region together – apart from some in North Rodney! Thank you for your commitment and relentless cheer. This month I was very pleased to support the City Rail Link because you not only got the National Government finally on board, you got them well on board. I appreciate the friendship you have shown so many of us. And we all wish you, your wife and girls all the very best, and of course more grandad time awaits!

Thank you also to my beautiful and supportive wife Kate, daughter Lucy who’s now 11, William (2), and Rupert (3 months). My personal circumstances have changed a lot too since arriving here. But I have to say the good thing about this Auckland housing boom is if you lose 50% of your equity, you can regain it back quite quickly if you’re prepared to buy and sell a few times and move around as we have done over the past five years

We’re now locked into the lovely community of Riverhead, and family is the priority. I intend to continue growing my public relations business, Cameron Brewer Communications Limited, as well as hopefully serving on the Rodney Local Board as part of the Rodney First ticket.

Whether I have the political portability of Tim Shadbolt to seamlessly move between the constituents of Kohimarama to Kaukapakapa is yet to be seen. But regardless I am grateful to you all for this experience, your comradery and the public’s forbearance. I have tried to be a friend of the ratepayers. I hope I have also been a friend to you.

I may be signing out of the council chamber today, but sorry I’m not signing off from politics just yet.

My very best wishes to my fellow retires on the Governing Body and local boards and best wishes to the rest of you for election day.

Ends

Watch speech here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EciMcneAkHU

21 September 2016

Councillors CRL cost concerns return

Media release – Wednesday, 14 September 2016: Public confirmation today of a new $2.8b to $3.4b funding envelope for the City Rail Link doesn’t surprise one Auckland councillor who along with two colleagues wrote to the Auditor-General as recently as June.

In their letter three months ago councillors Cameron Brewer, Dick Quax and George Wood outlined their concerns about the project and urged the Office of the Auditor-General to ensure a close oversight. At the time they were rebuffed by both Auckland Transport and the Auditor-General.

“This potential escalation is exactly what we feared. We now know the revised funding envelope, but no one still has any idea of the full and final costs. That will remain the worry for some years.

“Auckland ratepayers were assured by this council that if the Government came to the party with 50% of the total $2.5b project funding, the bill would be around $1.2b. However, ratepayers contribution could now escalate by nearly half a billion dollars to $1.7b if the project’s total cost was ever to hit $3.4b,” says Mr Brewer.

He says it’s great news the National Government has committed 50% to both the current enabling works and main works from 2018.

However he says another big funding hole that still needs to be addressed is the $100m plus shortfall that’s required to be found each and every year once the project is complete to keep the 3.4km CRL operational.

“And that $100m plus annual operational shortfall exists even after taking into account farebox revenue and rail subsidies. At the moment that massive operational shortfall still sits on council’s long-term budget forecasts and with the ratepayer.

“On the capital cost alone, we could be up for one million dollars a metre. That’s one thousand dollars for every millimetre and there’s a lot of millimetres between Britomart and Eden Terrace. Thank goodness for Auckland’s ratepayers we now have the Government on board,” says Cameron Brewer.

Ends

 

08 September 2016

Council staff up again and now costing $803m

Media release – Thursday, 8 September 2016: Auckland councillor Cameron Brewer has compiled and released the latest Auckland Council staff numbers and costs ahead of the Mayor and councillors signing off the 2015/16 Annual Report this month.

“I’ve been releasing the official staff numbers and costs every year for the past six years and every year they climb despite all the assurances and excuses. 2016 is no different.”

Mr Brewer says the latest draft 2015/16 Annual Report shows the total headcount of the Auckland Council Group (including the CCOs) has increased by 211 people from 11,380 to 11,591 in the past 12 months.

At the same time, the number earning more than $100,000 has increased by 136 people to 2,048, including 155 now earning more than $200,000 and 36 earning over $300,000.

“Total staff numbers in 2011 were put at 9,300. They’re now at 11,591. In the same period council’s total annual staff costs have risen by $188m – from $615m to $803m since the Super City.

“This Annual Report shows total staff costs for 2015/16 were budgeted at $771m but they’ve come in at $803m – that’s $32m above budget and up from $792m spent last year.

“Last year I put up an amendment during the 10-year budget debates to at least hold council staff costs for three years. However a majority of councillors voted it down. Well we’ve now exceeded $803m and ratepayers can look forward to the council’s annual wage bill hitting $1 billion in the coming years if the Labour Party maintains control.

“Phil Goff was number three in the last Labour Government when public sector numbers and staff costs soared. He talks a big game, but his track record in this area is appalling.

“Six years ago the ratepayers of Auckland were promised that the Super City would do ‘more stuff with less staff’. We’ll every year since without fail, Auckland Council’s staff numbers and costs have climbed as this Mayor has completely squandered the opportunity to deliver the benefits of amalgamation.

“Sure we need more of certain people to keep up with Auckland’s development and infrastructure boom. However let’s hold the line and prioritise those staff. Instead this council just endlessly adds on staff and costs, without seriously reviewing the organisation’s more discretionary roles.”

“This just confirms that Auckland Council staff costs and numbers deserve to be a major issue during this year’s local body election,” says Mr Brewer.

Total full-time equivalents, across the Auckland Council group, also increased from 9,678 to 9,870 in the past 12 months.

Ends

Cameron Brewer (021) 828-016

http://infocouncil.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/Open/2016/09/AUD_20160913_ATT_6351_EXCLUDED.PDF

Auckland Council’s official headcount count and wage and salary costs:

2011 c.9,300 & $615m

2012: 10,157 & $670m

2013: 10,616 & $693m

2014: 11,122 & $730m

2015: 11,380 & $792m

2016: 11,591 & $803m

2013 $100k-plus 1,500 $200k-plus 113 $300k-plus 23

2014 $100k-plus 1,720 $200k-plus 139 $300k-plus 34

2015

$100k-plus 1,912 $200k-plus 146 $300k-plus 36

2016

$100k-plus 2,048 $200k-plus 155 $300k-plus 36

Ends

31 August 2016

Goff’s living wage will face huge resistance

Media release – Thursday, 1 September 2016: The Auckland councillor who successfully fought against a living wage being adopted by Auckland Council three years ago says mayoral candidate Phil Goff’s promise to introduce one will face significant resistance from the Auckland business community and around the council chamber next term.

In December 2013 a narrow majority of 11 councillors supported Cameron Brewer’s amendment which effectively kicked Mayor Len Brown’s living wage proposal off the table. It has never formally been raised again.

“The left gave this a really good run three years ago but in the end lost. At the time the council’s own Business Advisory Panel, many Auckland business leaders and owners, as well as ratepayers were genuinely concerned about its possible introduction and the consequences,” says Mr Brewer.

“The estimated $3.75m cost to introduce it back then would’ve only been the start. Wage inflation would be triggered throughout the whole council and contractor costs would increase. At the same time other Auckland organisations and businesses would suddenly be forced to compete with council on wages.

“This will simply end up costing jobs not creating new ones. For the likes of cleaning and landscaping businesses as well as some competing retailers and facilities, a council living wage would simply create an uneven playing field in the local labour market. It will only make it harder for local businesses and residential rates more expensive.

“Three years ago we were told by the business community that a living wage policy would hit Auckland businesses and ultimately cost jobs. Believe me their concerns remain!

“Labour’s Phil Goff has long pushed the living wage idea, but as a mayoral candidate he’s also promised to be financially responsible and business-friendly. A living wage at Auckland Council was proven to be neither and hence why it was dropped by a majority of councilors three years ago.

“Mr Goff needs to listen more to ratepayer feedback on what most think of council’s escalating wage and salary bill which is nearing $1 billion per annum.

“He’s trying to promote himself as an independent mayoral candidate but the reality is if elected Phil Goff will pick up exactly where Len Brown left off – that is pushing a left-wing agenda which Auckland business and residential ratepayers will be expected to fund,” says Mr Brewer.

Ends

 

 

22 August 2016

Unitary Plan passed – my musings on it

Comments by Cameron Brewer – August 2016:

Some of us kicked up a fuss about the Independent Maori Statutory Board being at the table for the final deliberations and it was the right decision for them to withdraw. If they had remained sitting as judge and jury of the plan which they’d submitted heavily on, there would’ve been serious issues around conflicts of interest and legal challenges galore. That was avoided and in the end taking it straight to the Governing Body for the Mayor to chair and for only he and councillors to vote on was the best process.

While I was one of the 20 who voted for the overall unitary plan. I did however voice and vote against the zoning maps in the former Auckland City Council area. The Independent Hearings Panel’s recommendations were for a lot more density and much less single housing for the likes of the Eastern suburbs – than even the council had proposed. I sought to go back to the council’s proposal for the isthmus area as the lesser of two evils. However in the end the IHP got its way. This means the council’s original maps have effectively been put on steroids – with now no density provisions whatsoever in the widespread Mixed Housing Suburban areas, much less single housing and more Mixed Housing Urban and Terrace Housing and Apartment zoning.

“The ‘out of scope’ changes that the council tried to bring in nine months ago, which upzoned most of Glendowie for example, were thankfully thrown out few months back. However the IHP has effectively reinstated all the council’s ‘out of scope’ changes and the worst thing is locals never got a chance to have their say on these dramatic property zoning changes. Yes there was plenty of consultation on the proposed unitary plan, but this final version is now so much more intense, the public could not have their say, and that’s why I voted against the latest zoning maps for our old Auckland City suburbs. I argued that if we upzoned them even further, taking away density controls and the pre-1944 overlay, we will lose a lot of that lovely character that defines our family suburbs forever. Sadly, I didn’t get our way.

 The ultimate decider for me was that in the end the load was spread pretty fairly and the commissioners looked well beyond the eastern suburbs for solutions. The rural-urban boundary is finally softened, our country villages can grow, and much of the region’s low production land will become country lifestyle. Opening up more land north, west and south will hopefully slow down the rapid rise of property over time. And let’s not forget that for many Auckland property owners about 75% of the home’s value is the land it sits upon. Opening up the city limits is long overdue and will help not only take the pressure off Auckland property prices over time, but should take some pressure of the likes of the Eastern suburbs that are already carrying too much of the growth.

Also visit East & Bays Courier story: http://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/local-news/east-bays-courier/83260746/east-auckland-councillors-vote-against-unitary-plan-zoning-maps

 

01 August 2016

Unitary Plan handed to IMSB members and Deputy Mayor

Media statement – Thursday, 28 July 2016:

Auckland Councillor for Orakei Cameron Brewer says he and seven other councillors are furious that Mayor Len Brown and his supporters today voted to hand over the final consideration of the Unitary Plan to the Auckland Development Committee, chaired by Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse and including two unelected members of the Independent Maori Statutory Board.

“We wanted the Independent Hearings Panel’s (IHP) recommendations to go straight to the Governing Body for full and final consideration from 10 August. That is the expectation of the public, the intent of the legislation, and in fact what the IHP’s own website prescribes when it states ‘The Council (Governing Body) will consider the Panel’s recommendations and make decisions on whether to accept, accept in part or reject recommendations’.

To have it now go mainly through the Auckland Development Committee and then signed-off by the Governing Body is not only an inefficient process, but it’s completely undemocratic, and not befitting of the status of this hugely critical 50-year document, says Mr Brewer.

“Last week when it became clear that such a decision was already predetermined, a few of us demanded this issue of delegation be reported on at the full council’s monthly meeting. Well today, we debated it but staff, the mayor, and a majority of councillors were still pushing for it to go back to committee so the IMSB could have more input and the Deputy Mayor could keep control.

“Let’s not forget the IMSB has had significant input for four years. In fact most of its members are senior office holders of Maori trusts and Iwi authorities which have made submissions and the IMSB itself has made literally hundreds of submission points across the entire document. For them to now sit in judge and jury raises a number of issues.”

“Some in council should not have made big promises to the IMSB in the first place when the issue of delegation had still not been decided, and nor should the council have folded when the threats of legal action have been sounded in recent days.

“That issue aside, it should be the Mayor of Auckland who chairs these many days of critical discussion and decisions. The Deputy Mayor’s views on unitary plan are well entrenched and in recent weeks she’s been on a media campaign talking about her own solutions to Auckland’s housing and land supply issues.

“For the Mayor to simply hand this over to his loyal deputy as some kind of political legacy project to finish, and to enable him to ‘get out in the community’ is completely wrong. He was the only one elected at large. He should take the chair.

“The Unitary Plan Committee, the Independent Hearings Panel and the Auckland Development Committee’s work is over. It’s time for the Governing Body to take over the reins, but sadly no. It’s all very disappointing and sours the integrity of process going forward,” says Cameron Brewer.

The eight councillors who voted for the IHP’s recommendations to go straight to the Governing Body, but lost, were: Brewer, Fletcher, Krum, W Walker, Watson, Quax, Stewart, and Wood.

Ends

 

24 July 2016

City Rail Link set to redefine CBD

NZ Herald – By Anne Gibson – 22 July 2016
Excepts…
One of them, Cameron Brewer, is concerned that work on CRL has begun without the money to finish it.
“I’m not necessarily against the City Rail Link,” he says. “I certainly think it will be a transport benefit to Auckland. However I remain nervous as to the end cost and too much being loaded on to Auckland ratepayers present and future, while other worthy regional transport projects are forced to stay on the back burner.
“According to council’s own long-term budget forecasts, an operational shortfall of over $100 million remains for each and every year and that’s after collecting fares and rail subsidies.”
He says city councillors still don’t know the total cost of construction, who will cover any blow-outs, and how operational costs will be paid.
“Despite all these unknowns, construction has already begun, which is a big worry,” says Brewer. “The Auditor-General has since given us her assurance that her office is over it and we now await to see the joint funding agreement that Government and council officials are now working on.”
http://www.nzherald.co.nz//business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11678802
27 June 2016

Letter to the Auditor-General on CRL

Office of the Auditor-General

100 Molesworth St

Thorndon

Wellington 6011

21 June 2016

Dear Ms Provost,

Re: City Rail Link Project

As Auckland councillors, we would like to take this opportunity to raise with you some outstanding concerns we have with the City Rail Link project and invite you to respond.

We appreciate that in 2014 you called for more information around the costs and certainty of the project. The council responded with an amendment to its assumptions. In good faith you then effectively signed off the 2015 – 2025 Long Term Plan, satisfied with the supplied forecasts, information, and greater certainty around Central Government funding.

However, we remain concerned that no formal funding agreement for this massive project between Auckland Council and the Government is in place, yet the physical construction has begun. We believe that a number of red-flags remain for Auckland ratepayers.

We appreciate that a business case and funding agreement is now being worked up by officials representing both parties. At this point the funding split sits around 40/60: Government/Auckland Council. The Council’s 2015 – 2025 budget forecasts assume that the Government will commit $1.039b and that the council will fund $1.490b – taking the total capital expenditure cost to $2.529b. This is largely because the Government is yet to give any commitment to fund the three -year enabling works now underway.

Ms Provost, we invite the Office of the Auditor-General to take an active interest in this pending joint funding agreement currently being negotiated. Present and future Auckland ratepayers deserve the assurance that the eventual funding agreement protects their best interests, and only your Office can offer a truly independent view and present any necessary safeguards.

As you well know, never in the history of New Zealand has a Local Territorial Authority ever shouldered so much – not only the capital cost, but potentially the additional provision of the operational subsidy it will require.

Auckland Council’s own long-term operational budget forecasts show that, based on current assumptions, the City Rail Link will require an operational subsidy of over $100m each and every year once it has been built – and that is after receiving NZTA subsidies and passenger farebox revenue.

The joint funding agreement must not only ensure the capital cost is fairly shared across the entire project (enabling works and main works), but also that ratepayers are not left to shoulder an unfair quantum of the operational subsidy (currently equivalent to about a seven per cent average in residential rates increases).

Yes, there is a precedent to OPEX funding split for rail, but again this is a project on an unprecedented scale and needs to be treated accordingly. Furthermore, which parties carry what risks and how much those parties carry respectively, should be something of acute interest to your Office. Suburban ratepayers should not be left to shoulder cost blow-outs on a project of a national scale.

Given Auckland Council’s already concerning debt-to-revenue ratio, and the fact that alternative funding instruments (i.e. a motorway network toll) remain some years away, we invite you to also concern yourself with how Council is actually going to fund any significant operational shortfall going forward. Cost containment, both CAPEX and OPEX, will be the biggest challenge for the City Rail Link project, with ratepayers (not taxpayers) being the most exposed, given that the project remains council-led.

Back in the 2012 Long Term Plan your Audit Opinion raised a number of issues around the “significant level of uncertainty” with the Government’s half share of the cost and locking down “alternative funding sources”. Your letter stated that “The main risks to the city rail loop project are that Central Government will not agree to provide direct funding nor enable the Council to access alternative funding sources.”

While we accept that the Government will come to the party on the former, the latter remains outstanding. Like other aforementioned issues, ratepayers cannot wait until Auckland Council’s 2018 Long Term Plan for certainty around alternative funding. That certainty needs to form part of the pending funding agreement. And again this is another reason why your Office needs to involve itself.

Ms Provost, as “rank and file” councillors we have real concerns, when the Chief Financial Officer of Auckland Transport told us last month, that the final costs of the CRL are still be worked on by quantity surveyors.  To date we have still not heard the final overall costs of the project. Only this week the Prime Minister publicly predicted that the project will “almost certainly cost more than they thought.”

We ask that your Office actively takes the necessary steps to scrutinise the processes, in order to ensure that all members of the Governing Body are kept abreast of how the project is being funded.

It would be helpful to know that your Office is overseeing the issues we are raising.

Yours Sincerely

Cameron Brewer – Auckland Councillor for Orakei

Dick Quax – Auckland Councillor for Howick

George Wood – Auckland Councillor for North Shore

 

17 June 2016

Council’s rock-bottom trust rating could’ve been avoided

Media release – 17 June 2016: Auckland Council’s release today of its Citizen Insights Monitor showing just 15% of Aucklanders surveyed are satisfied with the council’s performance while only 17% trust the council is disappointing but not unexpected,” says Auckland Councillor for Orakei, Cameron Brewer.

“Firstly, hats off to the Chief Executive and his leadership team for doing this work and the subsequent authoring of the inaugural Auckland Council Performance Plan 2017 – 2019. The really negative numbers among these baseline survey results are not a reflection on staff. Nonetheless they have now tasked themselves with ensuring reputation repair!

“Sadly, it’s the lack of trust, political effectiveness and accountability and attitude towards ratepayers’ money that is dragging down Auckland Council’s reputation. While the categories of regional leadership & growth, social responsibility and communications, and fairness and ethics get a pass mark, accountability and effectiveness fail.”

Among the worse sub-categories within the failed category are ‘trustworthy’, ‘makes wise spending decisions’, ‘acts with integrity and honesty’, ‘good value for ratepayers’ money’, and ‘spends without waste or cost over-runs’.

Mr Brewer says it’s important to note there’s plenty of public support for many of the services, events and programmes Auckland Council runs. What’s more, there has also been some solid results recently pertaining to customer experience, employee engagement, and elected member satisfaction of advice received.

“However the wider public perception of the Auckland Council when it comes to trust and overall reputation is officially shot. And that’s a largely political reflection made by the people.

“Back in December 2013 when Auckland Council faced the biggest credibility crisis of its six-year existence, some of us pushed hard for political leadership renewal. We lost and were promised that the wider reputation of the organisation would return in time.

“Back then I argued that was never going to happen and the organisation would only be dragged down further.

“Sadly, after nearly three years we now have the empirical proof that ‘hanging on and hoping things would change’ has been hugely damaging to the council’s wider reputation. Then when you add in the Unitary Plan, budget blow-outs, and ongoing rates rises and soaring debt the public anger has only compounded.”

Mr Brewer says the good news is there will be the chance for some political renewal in the upcoming local body elections.

“However, replacing one Labour Mayor with another won’t improve the public’s deepest concern which is around how ratepayers’ money is treated and spent. If the public want that changed, they will need to actually vote for change not mere succession,” he says.

ENDS

 

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