18 May 2023

Relief as Citizens Advice Bureau earns reprieve from mayor's spending cuts

11:10 am on 18 May 2023
Citizens Advice Bureau in St Lukes, Auckland.

A Citizens Advice Bureau in Auckland. Photo: Google Maps

Auckland's Citizens Advice Bureaus (CAB) have escaped the chopping block after Mayor Wayne Brown softened his stance on social services.

The mayor's controversial budget proposal received a record-breaking 41,146 public responses, many criticising planned budget cuts for the arts sector and public services like CAB.

In a statement, Brown said he heard the feedback and reconsidered. "We should not proceed with the cuts that come at the expense of services that are highly valued by local communities," he said.

Cuts were still necessary, he said, but some organisations like Citizens Advice Bureau and the Southern Initiative would be safe.

Brown declined an interview with RNZ this morning, but Deputy Mayor Desley Simpson spoke to Morning Report on the proposed changes.

"What [Brown] said is right, I'm hearing you loud and clear that the cuts that were in the original proposed budget were too tight.

"He's softened that approach as a result of listening to all those stakeholders.

"Aucklanders were very clear in the feedback when they were asked of all the main things that they didn't want to cut what was the key theme … and arts and culture was at the top of what they wanted to keep."

CAB general manager Kate Anderson said she was thrilled the mayor had changed his mind.

"It's very good news, it's democracy in action really," she said.

In March, Anderson delivered a petition to the mayor's doorstep.

"It was a pretty meaningful petition, 20,000 people," she said. "We tried our hardest to get out there, everywhere we went plenty of people were willing to sign."

It was a last-ditch effort, and she wasn't sure it would work.

"It didn't feel like we were being heard," she said. "But it's really great to know that actually the people that run our city were listening."

The good news came after months of lobbying to save the service from ruin.

"We've been talking to [councillors] trying to find out what more we could do, how we could support them with their decision-making.

"The process has worked. We're just grateful that the governing body is recognising how important [it is] that we're still there for some of our most vulnerable people."

Though the mayor promised to fund the Citizens Advice Bureau, he did not confirm if existing funding would be reduced.

Anderson hoped the funding would remain as it had been in previous years. CAB had always been operating on the smell of an oily rag, she said.

"This organisation is ridiculous really," she said. "We're a very very lean organisation, so if there are cuts to what we receive we'll have to look really seriously at how we can deliver the service across the city."

Though the budget hadn't been finalised, Simpson said Anderson might be in luck.

"We have to wait until next week, but my understanding is the mayor is leaving the CAB funding in its current form, which is $2.1 million," she said. "That's my understanding."

Desley Simpson and Wayne Brown

Desley Simpson and Wayne Brown Photo: Supplied

The deputy mayor herself was also very pleased by Brown's backtrack.

"Aucklanders didn't like the cuts, councillors didn't like all the cuts, local boards didn't like all the cuts, and I'm pretty sure the mayor didn't like all the cuts," she said.

"He's heard a pretty clear message, including from me, that for example the CAB is a valued service and shouldn't be cut. He's heard strongly about funding for regional events and arts and culture. He's listened, and I think that's a huge credit to him."

But the budget hole, now $375 million, demanded a sacrifice.

"He needs the majority of councillors' support for the other levers to make this happen," Simpson said. "He can't magic up money, you can't put something back without getting it from somewhere else."

That included measures such as offloading the council's Auckland Airport shares, which was still very much on the table.

"It's a very, very complex set of levers that is needed to make this budget work," she said. "Nothing like a challenge, eh?"

Manurewa Local Board deputy chairman Matt Winiata said he was relieved by the planned changes to cuts.

At a presentation yesterday, Winiata broke down in tears at the prospect of no funding for an organisation that provides swimming lessons.

"We've got to balance a budget that's not built off the backs of children and families in a broken and vulnerable community. The kids shouldn't be having to miss out."

Winiata said cuts to programmes such as $180,000 that funds 60,000 children sent out "to activities and life-changing experiences for them across South Auckland" were a bad idea.

"Three dollars each for them, that's nothing in a budget where we're looking for $375 million so why should they be missing out?"

"It's a fantastic outcome if he's rewinding that."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs