Prudent and responsible management of Auckland Council’s budget

Anyone claiming “council’s debt and spending is out of control” or that council is “virtually broke” (and there are plenty of candidates who really should know better) needs to talk to Cr Desley Simpson, stalwart of the National party who has led the Finance & Performance Committee this term with her Deputy Shane Henderson. She has worked closely with the Mayor to oversee the prudent and responsible management of the budget. Savings targets have been exceeded, debt is well below agreed levels and most importantly throughout the financial challenges of the pandemic which knocked a $900m hole in Council’s budget, the credit ratings with S&P Global Ratings and Moody’s Investor Services of AA and Aa2 respectively have been retained.
The big numbers involved in serving 1.7 million Aucklanders are not something to be scared of as council invests in climate action and the much-needed infrastructure to meet Auckland’s growing population. Just this term the capital investment programmes of more than $6 billion has delivered the likes of the Quay Street upgrade, the Te Wānanga new coastal space on the waterfront, Te Komititanga public square on Queen Street, and Te Ngau o Horotiu, the new downtown ferry terminal.
The old Auckland City Council kept rates artificially low and failed to make long term investments in infrastructure by pushing out projects like water separation. This is why we have poo in the harbour. The water quality programme is now funded and making significant progress.
Debt is currently 16% of council’s assets and well below pre-covid levels of 270% debt to revenue ratio. It is not equitable or logical to pay down debt further by cutting services and assets on a balance sheet as stable as Auckland Council’s. As David Shand, a member of the Royal Commission that recommended setting up the Supercity, says “candidates who complain about Auckland’s debt and promise to reduce it are in my view, financially illiterate. Debt is a sound way of financing long-term assets and Auckland’s debt is within prudential limits.”*
A lot of false claims are made about Auckland Council’s rates too. We have never had the highest average general percentage increase of any council in NZ. Currently Auckland is 4th of the metropolitan cities (after Tauranga, Wellington and Dunedin). Rates have been kept below inflation in Annual Budget 22/23 at the same time significant savings have been achieved and costs have risen as a result of covid. Since amalgamation council has made savings and efficiencies of $2.4 billion. This term alone, operational savings and efficiency achievements total in excess of $260 million with group procurement savings of just under $150 million.
Auckland Council’s annual report 21/22 released on 30 September  confirms we’ve been able to deliver $2.28 billion worth of capital investment, and exceed an ambitious target of $90 million in operational savings by $2.7million. This totals the annual savings and efficiencies at $92.7 million, which when added to the savings figures from the past two years, adds up to delivering a final total of savings and efficiencies well in excess of a quarter of a billion dollars this term.

We are now on the countdown to Election Day on 8 October.  Check your letter box if you haven’t seen your purple envelope yet or call the Election Office on 0800 922 822 if it didn’t arrive.  Voting papers can be dropped in Vote Boxes at transport hubs, Countdown supermarkets and libraries.  (check the map here)

There is still time to make an informed decision on the candidates who are upfront about what they stand for and straight with the facts.  

David Shand: Auckland Voters – here’s some questions you should be asking, NZ Herald 6 September (paywalled)