Kiri is a digital journalist for bayofplentytimes.co.nz.

Millions spent on local government public relations

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Tauranga City Council spent more than $1m on communications in the past year. Photo/file
Tauranga City Council spent more than $1m on communications in the past year. Photo/file

Tauranga and Western Bay of Plenty authorities have spent more than $3 million on public relations in the past year.

Figures released to the Bay of Plenty Times under the Official Information Act for the 2014/15 financial year reveal Tauranga City Council spent $1,250,000 on its communications operations. Of this, $630,000 was paid to public relations staff.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council spent $1,601,372 on communications, with $500,214 going to staff, and Western Bay of Plenty District Council spent $181,316 on communications.

The Western Bay council was the only authority to spend more on its communications operations than it did five years ago.

Groups manager of customer and community services Kevin Jefferies said this was a reflection of the council adding an extra role to its communications team. In 2010/11 the council employed two communications staff, which was increased to three in 2014/15.

Mr Jefferies said communications were a necessary and legitimate council expense. Councils were also justified in employing, or otherwise engaging, professional advice and assistance for their communications activities.

The amount of money spent on communications at Tauranga City Council dropped, after it spent $1,650,000 in 2010/11.

General manager chief executive's group Kirsty Downey said in 2010/11 there were eight full-time equivalent staff.

The online services manager and senior web publisher positions were transferred out of the communications team to another part of the organisation. That year two civic events positions that were formerly part of the Baycourt team were moved to the communications department.

However, between 2010/11 and 2014/15 a city partnership role was added to the team and then moved out again and the two civic events positions were also moved to other parts of the council.

In 2014/15 the council employed four-and-a-half full-time equivalent communications staff.

The regional council dropped their spend on staff by more than $200,000 from $763,699 in 2010/11. Additional spending on communications costs also dropped - from $1,111,056 to $1,101,158 in 2014/15. However, the budget for 2015/16 was larger than either year at $1,194,706.

When asked to explain the variances in communications costs, general manager of corporate solutions James Graham said in a written response: ''At the end of 2013 a new communications manager was employed. The structure, processes undertaken and outputs of the communications team was reviewed accordingly. Natural attrition has enabled a change in approach delivering through extended recruitment periods (to enable role revision).''

There were currently five full-time equivalent positions plus two contractors at the regional council. In 2014/15 there were five-and-a-half full-time equivalent positions plus three contractors.

The councils listed their communications duties as including managing media, brand management, internal communications, media engagement, community engagement, online and social engagement, civil defence risk and crisis management, plus project and events support.

Matua Residents' Association chairman Richard Kluit said the money spent was ''necessary to get the message across''.

''You almost have to have an over saturation for people to pick up the information through one form or another,'' Mr Kluit said.

''Generally the public don't go looking for information. They might glimpse it in the paper, etc, but I think it's a reality that they do need to overkill to get the information out there. I regularly hear people's conversations where they have only half the information and they are making comments and decisions on the half because they haven't fully read things.''

Papamoa Progressive Association's Ron Melville said: ''On the face of it, it does seem a lot of money''.

''But considering we are now a populous and growing city of nearly 125,000 ... that works out to me about $10 per resident which seems to be a good value over a 12-month period.''

- Bay of Plenty Times

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