23 Jul 2015

Councillors: Hands off the family jewels

3:16 pm on 23 July 2015

Several Auckland councillors say a serious lack of funding by the Government is forcing them to consider selling assets, and they want some protected.

Len Brown at the Auckland Council meeting on Thursday 25 June.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

The council has approved a review of all its assets after its budget committee agreed in May to consider alternative sources of financing to take the pressure off the region's rising rates.

But some councillors have hit back against the idea of leaving all assets on the table for possible sale, including major ones such as the airport and Ports of Auckland.

Councillor John Watson said he had never come across anyone from the public who thought it was a good idea to sell assets, especially when the priority was to look at the council's own costs.

"I'm not a business person, but in terms of household budgets most people look at their own costs... before they start hocking things off."

He questioned how genuine the council was in wanting to become more efficient, if there was no desire to address small costs.

"It's funny, when those small things come up, like business-class travel, they stay," he said.

Some also emphasised the need to protect community assets, like public libraries and pension housing, from being hacked off for short-term financial gain.

But Councillor Denise Krum said she was glad everything was on the table, and said it was not the job of the council to naively guard assets without knowing their actual worth.

"We are not god-like guardians, we're governors, we obviously need to operate more efficiently and move towards stated goals."

She acknowledged clarity and transparency would be important during the review process, because public trust in the council had been low in recent months.

Other councillors said the council should not be forced to sell off its assets because the Government was reluctant to finance important projects, such as the inner-city rail link.

"The fundamental structural problem we have that's not going to go away is the lack of funding from the Government, and the fact that they're not on the table, especially around transport costs," said Councillor Wayne Walker.

"It's the funding for rail and the funding for roads that we're spending money on."

But the Auckland mayor, Len Brown, said the Government had been the whipping boy for too long.

"Whichever way you look at the Government's funding, we pay a third of the tax, we get a third back... we get a third of the spending in terms of transportation," he said.

"We can beat this horse so much."

He said while he continued to stand against the sale of assets, he supported the review for the sake of clarity.

A final review by two independent advisory firms will be presented confidentially to the council in November.