Councillors, not staff, asked for the two independent reports on our assets from Ernst and Young and Cameron Partners. Although Auckland has a Moodys double A rating and we have achieved efficiency savings of $500 million since amalgamation we are very conscious of the infrastructure build that is needed in Auckland as we face a city the size of Hamilton coming at us every five years. One well-known talk back host sneeringly said that we should stop doing stuff. Sounds easy, but tell that to the many people in Rodney that live on unsealed and unsafe roads. Tell that to the many people who sit in traffic on our congested roads. Tell that to the many children who can’t play sport because of water-logged sports parks and the communities like Warkworth that want a swimming pool complex that rivals their central Auckland communities.
We have a budget that is balanced for the next 10 years and we are doing “stuff” but we need and want to do better. We need to keep rates as low as possible and debt levels at a managed level, too. So what can we do to enable that infrastructure to be built faster? As in any debate of this nature, some people immediately jump to the ‘sale’ option and depending which side of the political spectrum you are on, we are either selling the family jewels, having a fire sale, or being lauded for doing the right thing and divesting Council of unnecessary things and getting back to core business.
By having independents doing these reports they are able to take a measured look at everything we do and own. These reports suggest a better way of levying off some assets and suggest ways of doing things differently. For example, internally we have a fleet of cars. With GPS we are able to see what is used, when and why. Obviously building inspectors and animal control officers and such like need vehicles, but do we need as many? We have already made efficiency gains but are there more such as in shared services and IT. In February we will run workshops with Councillors to explore all the aspects in the reports. Reactions will be mixed and some things may be put into the ‘too hard basket’ but the debate will be had and decisions made before we go to the public for comment.
On a lighter note, I wish everyone a Happy Christmas and New Year, and look forward to working for you in the year to come.
by Penny Webster