24 Sep 2014

Council staffing 'didn't break budget'

7:44 am on 24 September 2014

The Auckland Council rejects claims the cost of staff is higher than expected and salary costs outstrip budget forecasts, but admits some of its figures seized on by a critic don't tell the full story.

The council's civic administration building.

Staff at the council and agencies rose by 364 last year, but the costs are within budget, it says. Photo: RNZ

Councillor Cameron Brewer says staffing grew sharply last year, costing $76 million more than forecast in the long-term budget.

Radio New Zealand has taken a detailed look at the council's staffing numbers, and the council says it has needed several days to assemble data that can be compared on a like-for-like basis.

One issue which has made comparison difficult is the council's revelation that, part-way through its four-year life, it began to include in its tally the more than 500 staff employed at Ports of Auckland, which it owns.

Over the past three years, port numbers expressed as full-time equivalent staff, have risen by 100 as port activity has increased. The FTE figure combines part-timers into 40-hour blocks, so that five people each employed for one day a week become 1 FTE.

Excluding those, the full-time equivalent count of staff at the council and its agencies number 7987, some 240 fewer than forecast by the Auckland Transition Agency for the council's first day of business in November 2010.

Date Staff numbers in the Auckland Council group (excluding Ports of Auckland) Ports of Auckland (FTE) Staff cost $ million (excl PoA)
November 2009: Staff in pre-amalgamation local bodies and agencies (full-time equivalent) 9,430 - 649
November 2010: Initial staff numbers forecast by Auckland Transition Agency for 1 November 2010 start-up 8,207 - 538
December 2010: Actual FTE count 7,415 - n/a
July 2012 forecast (as forecast by ATA pre-amalgamation) 7,907 - 513
July 2012 actual 7,157 459 600
July 2013 actual 7,623 439 636
July 2014 actual 7,987 559 671

More cuts planned

Staff at the council and agencies, rose by 364 last year but the costs are within budget at $671 million.

The council says some of the growth occurs in areas that are self-funded through charges, such as resource consents. It says this work has increased as economic activity has picked up.

It has previously explained some increases in staff by saying the use of external contractors has been cut, and more work brought in-house, both at the council and agencies such as Watercare Services.

Auckland Council's latest annual report shows a $9 million cut in spending on professional services.

Len Brown.

Mayor Len Brown. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Following the release of the July 2014 staff numbers, it has announced the cutting of 128 roles, some of these occurring in the next year or two, ultimately saving more than $18 million a year.

The most recent cuts have been 38 in communications and marketing, and late last week it announced 56 cuts coming up in the planning and research areas in the coming year, rising eventually to 90.

The council is preparing its next 10-year budget, or Long Term Plan, in which it hopes to nearly halve the rate rises forecast in the previous plan for the next few years.

The proposal from Mayor Len Brown is also for a cut in spending, with the previous forecast of $14 billion for new projects, cut to a proposed $11 billion over the next decade.

The cuts to the number of new amenities proposed across the city, is expected to bring community criticism when the draft Long Term Plan is released.

Mr Brown's proposal also envisages a further $30 million cut in the council's own operational spending each year, and new charges to fund transport projects which will go out for public consultation by the end of the year.

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