23 Oct 2014

Santa victim of Auckland cost cutting

7:56 am on 23 October 2014

The six-storey-high Santa which has been a part of an Auckland Christmas for 54 years has been axed as a city promotion agency cuts costs after sacking its chief executive.

Heart of the City says it can not afford the $180,000 costing of putting up Santa and his reindeer on the Queen Street's Whitcoulls building.

The giant Santa first went up on the Farmers Hobson Street department store in 1960, and after a brief stint in Manukau City, has been an annual fixture in Queen Street.

The Queen Street Santa

The Queen Street Santa Photo: PHOTO NZ

Chair of the ratepayer-funded agency, Terry Gould, said its five year relationship with Santa has to end.

"Funding from other sources has progressively been withdrawn, leading to much discussion around the boardroom table about spending priorities," he said.

Terry Gould, chair of Heart of the City.

Terry Gould, chair of Heart of the City. Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

Mr Gould has linked the decision to the sacking, a fortnight ago, of long-standing chief executive Alex Swney, who faces tax evasion charges, charges Mr Swney denies.

The agency's board sacked Mr Swney the day after he told them that personal tax troubles, also involved allegations of fictitious invoicing.

The agency has called in forensic accountants to go through its books from the past 15 years, and Mr Gould said Santa's cost could not be justified under those circumstances.

"Until the current investigations into Heart of the City's finances are complete, the board is determined to act prudently and keep a tight rein on outgoings," he said.

Ironically, one of Mr Swney's last tasks before his sacking, was conducting negotiations to try to save the Queen Street Santa.

Mr Gould said he hoped someone else can come up with some money, and a new home, to ensure Santa and his reindeer can reappear elsewhere.

The Agency held its annual general meeting last night, but there was only one question about its handling of matter surrounding Mr Swney.

Mr Gould told the meeting that the work by forensic accountants could be completed in weeks, and once the findings were known, the agency would consider whether civil action against Mr Swney was appropriate.

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