Auckland Council budget plan: Grant backing Big Gay Out and Polyfest facing the chop

10:52 am on 16 December 2022
Kia Aroha College Samoan group

Polyfest is among the events that receives the regional contestable grant from Auckland Council. File photo Photo: RNZ / Mabel Muller

An Auckland Council grant backing big events like Big Gay Out, Polyfest, and the Highland Games is facing the chop in the latest proposed budget.

Auckland Council's latest budget proposal, released publicly last week, suggested stopping regional contestable grants and removing some of the community, social, innovation and economic development programmes, which would save $8m and $20m respectively.

Mayor Wayne Brown's budget plan includes other avenues to fill the $295 million shortfall - which he said increased by $25m since he took up his role in October - including a targeted 7 percent rates increase, $25m of operating savings for Auckland Transport, and potentially selling the council's 18 percent share in Auckland Airport.

Yesterday, councillors agreed on the budget items that will go out for public consultation early next year - with just one councillor voting against, Josephine Bartley.

Bartley told Morning Report this was just the beginning of the process, and she hoped there would be changes after getting feedback from the public.

"My concern was what we're putting out there to the public. [The budget plan is] forcing a lot of our arts sector, our community groups ... prove what they do in order to keep getting community funding they get.

Josephine Bartley

Councillor Josephine Bartley. Photo: supplied

"But they already do that anyway. They do accountability reports back to council. It really has just put a whole lot of people on alert, that what they're delivering for us as a city could potentially be stopped."

The "core services" were part of the fabric of the city, she said.

"Arts culture events, our people, our diversity, that's what sets Auckland apart from anywhere else in the world, is that we so many cultures living in this little place ... we should always celebrate what makes us great and I know that sounds corny, but I really do believe that.

"A lot of these cuts will mean that a lot of people who are struggling financially, a lot of our low-income families will be further removed from accessing any of these public assets, like the zoo, like MOTAT, because those are all set to be increased [in price]."

Manukau Ward councillor Alf Filipaina said Aucklanders needed to get involved with the consultation, because small communities could be badly hit and he did not want cuts to art and education programmes.

Bartley questioned why assets like golf courses were not being touched.

"Why is it that community always gets the first cut?

"I think there needs to be more that's brought to the table for us to make decisions on about what we can cut and what we can swap out. Because I'm all up for that, I just don't think anybody around that table has got enough information to make that decision."

Auckland mayor Wayne Brown at a council meeting.

Auckland mayor Wayne Brown at the council meeting on 16 December, 2022. Photo: RNZ / Finn Blackwell

Auckland Airport shares turmoil

The mayor's comments during the livestreamed meeting yesterday also triggered a suspension in Auckland Airport's trading on the sharemarket.

While making his case for selling the council's 18 percent share in the airport, Brown suggested the company was planning a major capital raising to open a new domestic terminal.

Later in the meeting, he claimed he had just been speculating, and that he did not have any inside knowledge.

Manukau Ward councillor Alf Filipaina, who was against the proposal to sell the council's share in the airport, said comments like this could affect the sharemarket.

Councillor Josephine Bartley agreed, saying as mayor he should be wise with his words.

"Twitter was going crazy after what he said, and then you see Auckland Airport coming back and having to issue the statements they issued. It was all unnecessary."

Bartley said she could understand it was not quite strategic to keep holding on to the airport shares after a tumultuous year with Covid restrictions affecting earnings, but they would have to find another source of income if they did that.

After the trading halt, Auckland Airport promptly denied any intention to raise money for a new terminal through a share sale.

New Zealand Shareholders Association chief executive Oliver Mander told Morning Report he would have expected the mayor to apologise, not just clarify his comments.

But Mander believed investor rules were the saving grace.

"There are rules in place around inside knowledge for investors and that really is there to protect investors, so Wayne Brown is subject to those rules just like anyone else."

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