That was a headline in the DomPost last week, referring of course to central government.

Don’t expect to see a headline like that in Hawke’s Bay Today anytime soon!

Although it’s budgeting crunch time for our local Councils, one thing you can be absolutely, positively sure of … personnel cuts are not on the table.

It’s curious how central government has managed to eliminate nearly 2,000 public service jobs since December 2008, and our local bodies none.

Our local bodies try their best to boast of achieving ‘efficiencies’ … but funny how these never involve identifying unnecessary staff. If a possibly redundant body is found somewhere under a desk, that slot is always redeployed to some other ‘urgent’ activity. So, unlike local businesses, Councils never diminish in size.

Now, I’m no Attila the Hun when it comes to slashing local budgets, but don’t ratepayers at least deserve to know how many people they’re paying for and what they do … with a bit of justification for the expenditure? Yet, if you examine the public consultation documents for the Hastings, Napier and Regional Councils, you will find no discussion of personnel costs whatsoever. In fact, you would need a magnifying glass to discover simply the gross amount spent on staff.

In Hastings, that proposed personnel cost for 2011-12 is $23.6 million. In the rest of the projected $92 million operating expenditure, nothing (except depreciation) comes remotely close to that amount. And of course personnel is up $439k from this year.

The corresponding figure in Napier for 2011-12 is $24.9 million, out of $81.6 million in operating expenditure. Personnel is up $681k over the current year.

The HBRC almost earns a gold star for actually identifying the number of staff it employs — 163. However, they can’t claim the prize, because no where in their 135 page Annual Plan document do they ever admit how much they spend on personnel, out of $37.2 million in operating expenditure. (I’m going to guess $12-15 million.) That should add fuel to the gossip that HBRC boasts the highest paid staff per person amongst HB councils.

Council documents are happy to provide excruciating detail about the depreciation of physical assets like roads and toilet blocks, but they are stubbornly reluctant to divulge how many people they employ or their per head cost! You can be sure though, none will depreciate in value!

Tom Belford

P.S. Wasn’t Rodney Hide supposed to be doing something about local government fiscal transparency?!

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  1. Dear Tom,

    It is not only the number of staff employed but also the huge wages paid to them.

    The Napier mayor gets paid $89,000 p.a. whilst the Chief Executive is paid $255,000 p.a. including a car.

    These figures off the NCC website.

  2. Well Tom, it is of course beholden on local councils, and their members, to see that they seek to offer the most efficient service to ratepayers, but it does not follow that fat in central government warranting trimming applies in a like manner to local government.

    Central government has always had an incentive to take on employees as a means to reduce unemployment, for which they get the blame, although admittedly this is not to the same extent as in previous times.

    The H B Regional Council – and here it is no exception – has had to accommodate increasing functions and public demands over the last decade or so. This especially applies to water, and even then, over the last three years you have constantly harassed us for not doing enough. We have needed to determine more exactly the resource (quite a challenge given much of it is under the ground), allocate it in the face of growing and competing demands, monitor, police and encourage efficiency in its use, and now possibly harvest it.

    A decade ago air pollution was barely on the radar, but now we need to monitor pm10 levels and administer a plan to reduce it involving disciplines and incentives. You have claimed that this is too little and too late. We need to address concerns about point of source discharges, including our 100 dairy farmers, or ‘polluters’ as you call them. And there’s much more besides, such as hazard site identification, biodiversity and wetland restoration, riparian stock exclusion…the list goes on.

    So you think we should eliminate some staff positions? So identify them!

    We are talking about people who have a job to do and they do it with dedication and skill, for which they feel entitled to having their bank account appropriately credited, which seems reasonable enough to me. Sacking employees whose work is satisfactory is a very disagreeable experience for any CEO. So maybe you could nominate who it is that should have their job at the Regional Council eliminated so that your readers can judge whether the cost savings justify the reduced service. Otherwise your comment is just an empty piece of populism.

  3. Ewan,

    If HBRC or other local bodies are taking on increased responsibilities — like protecting our waterways for the first time — then fine, make that case for needed/additional resources (including people) in a transparent fashion.

    As you — as a firm supporter of 'workshops' ("we need to be free to ask silly questions", as you said recently) — well know, Ewan, the fact that 'personnel' issues might arise is a frequent ruse for public-excluded sessions … as it was in the HBRC's recent strategic planning session.

    So how could I, a mere citizen, possibly know the appropriateness of HBRC staffing levels and deployment? It would appear that's YOUR job. And I hear you saying that — after careful review — you've determined that HBRC is staffed just fine. (There was a careful review, wasn't there?)

    If so, that's a truly remarkable achievement … perhaps the only bureaucracy in NZ that doesn't need to tighten its belt.

    Congratulations. Why aren't you making that case in your consultation documents?

  4. Dear Max, what's wrong with the Napier CEO being paid $255,000?

    You may not be worth that much, but their are individuals who most certainly are. Surely we want the best and brightest running our cities? They are damned complicated businesses and we don't want any old plonker running it. If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

    If they are highly skilled and add significant value then perhaps it's a sound investment.

  5. When I drive into either Hastings or Napier 10-20 km respectively I usually see 3 Regional Council vehicles going about their merry way.

    It is obvious that there is a huge overstaffing at the Hawkes Bay Regional Council!

    We should be looking at an immediate 25 to 30% reduction in staff number!

    I have worked in local government myself and seen the wastage first hand; don't try to pull the wool over the publics' eye Euan you are talking rubbish and you know it!

  6. It should be of serious concern to all Hawkes Bay dwellers, that the excessive rate costs in the region is destroying the productive capacity and wealth of the region.

    For every little business servicing the region; a farmer for instance will be paying the multipier effect of this cost structure where the accountant he uses the vet, stock and station agent the fertilizer supplier, the post and wire merchant the freezing works the port facilities the transport operators and so on and so on; all of whom are paying rates to the councils that must be recovered from the primary producers……..cannot these people who represent us see they are the basis of a parasitic system that is ruining Hawkes Bays and New Zealands economic well-being, are they really so stupid as to not recognise this.

    I think the answer to this is ……..yes!

    Why do they put out false information(which is an illegal act)and no one brings them to account for this?

    Do they have immunity for breaking the law?

    Edward Visser in the Hawkes Bay Today(May 28th 2011) clearly demonstrates a 19.4 % increase in some ratepayers accounts when the Hastings District Council claims a 2% they were clearly lying to the public and the National government should

    be investigating this.

    Claiming administrative error is really a means to defraud the public and needs to be addressed by higher authority.

    The Mayor, the CEO and the Chief Financial offer should be resigning immediately over this issue!

  7. I agree that staffing levels and relative expertise across each department should be common easily-accesible public knowledge; it is after all we the public who pay their wages via our rates and, in effect, "own" council. So we at least have a right to know how many planners, inspectors, wardens, or nurserymen etc a Council employs, together with the gross staffing budget for each respective dept.

    I do not however believe that individual salaries should be public knowledge; I think that crosses the line and invades personal privacy / raises contractual "fairness" issues.

    And while its difficult to qualify public-sector performance because it is (in the main) service not sales driven, if we the public were at least able to compare the annual budgetary performance of a given department against the number and gross salary of its workers, we might have some indication as to whether that dept was good value – or not. Or over- or under-staffed. Etc.

    However, as untransparent as current council disclosures (or their lack) are, I also agree with Ewan in that central Government has foisted more and more functions – especially viz monitoring and research and policing – on local government … and those are not only things that cost, but that cost most in terms of extra and more expert staff.

    Also I'd like to point out one fundamental misconception people have about councils: the Mayor & Councillors do NOT have any say in the hiring of "their" staff; the only person they hire directly is the CEO; the CEO hires everyone else (ie, the group managers, who hire the dept heads, who hire the workers). So asking elected officials to do something about staff numbers / salaries is pretty much nonsensical; the only thing they CAN do is limit (or expand) budgets.

    Hope this helps explain how a Council functions. (Or not!)

  8. Clearly Mr Bisset if the council reduces the money available for salaries then the corresponding staff numbers will have to reduce.

    What you are saying is there is no democracy and the council C.E.O. IS A DICTATOR!?

    This is probably correct!

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