Richard Moore: Council working hard to offer jobs

By Richard Moore

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In tight economic times private businesses, and council, need to cut their spending to match income.
In tight economic times private businesses, and council, need to cut their spending to match income.

Sometimes it is good to see civic leaders who are prepared to make a mark on their cities and be brave enough to do unpopular things to make it happen.

Usually it is to solve infrastructure problems - such as going through a short-term chaos to put in new road systems or new rail lines. Often it is about building things that future generations will benefit from.

One of the classic examples is the Sydney Opera House.

It is a magnificent structure that has become the symbol of Sydney and yet it was so unpopular during planning and construction it actually brought down the New South Wales Government.

But it was forced through and - despite it being 10 years overdue when it was completed in 1973 and ended up costing 14 times more than budgeted for - it is now an essential part of Sydney Harbour.

In Tauranga we are blessed by civic leaders who have only one goal in mind - and that seems to be to singlehandedly solve the city's unemployment problem by giving everyone a job at Tauranga City Council.

Currently there are 10 vacancies being advertised. Some may be replacements, but with our debt level in the crisis zone and likely to get worse as interest rates on those monies owed rise, surely now is the time to impose a sinking lid so that staff who leave do not get replaced?

In tight economic times private businesses need to cut their spending to match income. They tighten things up and get more out of their staff. One person often has to do the job of two. So why isn't our council doing that?

I guess when they have an unending source of income from their ratepayers what's another 10 jobs on a payroll of more than 550?

Only the staffing levels are higher than that and have been well camouflaged under different organisations.

On top of the 550 council staff, ratepayers are forking out for another 250 in the council- controlled organisation Bay Leisure and Events Ltd, and 230-something in consultancies and City Care.

A quick add up on my abacus tells me we have broken through the 1000 staff barrier.

I'm sure they are all vital to our well being and smooth running of our city ...

And what's another $500,000-plus on a wages bill of $32 million a year?

Actually, we may need to ramp that estimate up a bit as one of the jobs is for an executive officer - a new role to give Mayor Stuart Crosby and Deputy Mayor Kelvin Clout high-level advisory support.

Call me obtuse, but couldn't they find one person to fit that role from within the mighty ranks of Willow St bureaucracy?

Just one?

The salary on the position isn't too bad at all - ranging from $80,000 to $130,000. The higher figure being almost twice the pay of elected councillors.

Clearly, we are a very rich city to be able to afford the extra brainpower.

And I won't mention here that $80,000 would be enough to pay for the continuation of the city's mobile library - a service that 22,000 people connected to ratepayers use each year.

I can't understand the deputy mayor pushing for such a new job.

Clout was elected on a manifesto of cost-cutting and debt reduction and I fail to see how his backing of increasing the wages bill is in any way in keeping with that promise.

I've said it before and I will state it again. The only sensible way for Tauranga to reduce its massive debt is to cut staffing at the Town Hall.

To allow the bureaucracy to bloat even further is both irresponsible and fiscally dangerous.

And let's remember that the bigger the city's payroll bill, or the bigger the city's debt, the more we ratepayers have to pay to keep it going or lose services to make up the difference.

I'm hoping other councillors elected to get Tauranga's finances in order will oppose this move by Crosby, Clout and the bureaucracy and force a rethink, or is the faceless power of council staff such that they now push ahead in their own merry way no matter what is said to them?

As eminent scholar and expert of public administration C. Northcote Parkinson wrote: "An enterprise employing more than 1000 people becomes a self-perpetuating empire, creating so much internal work that it no longer needs any contact with the outside world."

Is that where we are now at in Tauranga? Being ruled over by unelected council staff who are not accountable to anything or anyone?

Richard Moore is an award-winning Western Bay journalist and photographer.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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