Having just passed my first anniversary as Mayor, I think it’s a good time to do a stocktake of progress so far. Commentators have said my first year has seen me lead a council through what’s been perhaps the most difficult period since the supercity amalgamated – the catastrophic Anniversary weekend floods and Cyclone Gabrielle. On top of that, I inherited a heap of debt and an ever widening $325 million budget hole. I swore I would face issues head-on, make tough decisions, and fix Auckland.
A majority of Aucklanders voted to stop wasting money. They said they wanted better, cheaper, and faster services. My councillors and I managed to agree on a budget that cut costs. It involved compromise, but that means we listened to Aucklanders and made decisions, which is our job. We reduced our operating spend by $83 million in the Annual Budget. Just by being grumpy and asking for better returns, the Port of Auckland increased its dividend by $10 million this year. I also asked council to accelerate their office consolidation programme. So far this has shrunk the number of offices council and CCOs have in the CBD, a move that will contribute to $13 million a year in savings. I don’t think it’s unreasonable that CCOs share offices with council to reduce costs. Councillors agreed to the partial sale of Auckland Airport shares, too.
We need to sell investments that don’t return our cost of capital. If it is costing Aucklanders more money to keep owning assets than they return in cash, then it’s time to sell up and invest in something that can help reduce rates in the long term. Right now, in this high interest rate environment, the best investment we can make is to pay down debt.
I also campaigned on finishing the big projects and making the most of what we have before starting new projects. This couldn’t be more true than in transport and infrastructure. I am leading the development of an integrated transport plan that we will agree with central government, which is already underway. I want to prioritise rail infrastructure and the use of rail to get big trucks off the road.
Early in my term I secured government funding for completing the Eastern Busway; the next priority is the Northwestern Busway, and it is my vision that these will be up and running as smoothly and efficiently as the Northern Busway already is. I’m pushing to make better use of transponders on buses to wake up traffic lights when a bus approaches and more dynamic lanes to move traffic better in peak times. I’m also looking at where time-of-use charging might be helpful.
We have a significant capital programme being delivered for more efficient growth, and our Making Space for Water programme, as well as things like the Central Interceptor to deal with wastewater overflows, under construction. These are important following the floods.
I also promised to take back control of CCOs. I have been reminding staff that while they are experts in their field, it is their job to advise elected officials, and that elected officials alone make the decisions on behalf of Aucklanders. That is how democracy works. On that note, I’ve been able to get councillors to provide clearer direction to CCOs, and even Auckland Transport is beginning to change its approach. Legislative change is also on the way.
The Long-Term Plan (LTP) is our next big challenge – to get consensus on what we invest in for the next 10 years. So far, I have ensured it is done differently, bringing councillors in from the beginning with a joint direction document for the council group on what our priorities are and what we want to see in the LTP. We are getting more information than we have had before to make the best decisions for Aucklanders on the things that matter to them.