Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Key: Up to council to justify V8 outlay

V8 Supercar.  Photo / Christine Cornege
V8 Supercar. Photo / Christine Cornege

Four months after telling councils to focus on their core business, Prime Minister John Key is relaxed about the Auckland Council spending $10.6 million on bringing the V8 Supercars to Pukekohe.

Mr Key, whose Government is making a "one-off" contribution of $2.2 million towards a $6.6 million upgrade of Pukekohe Park, said it was up to the council to justify its spending to ratepayers.

The V8s were cited during a shake-up of local government in March by the then-Local Government Minister Nick Smith as the type of risky commercial venture councils should not undertake.

Mr Key said he wanted councils to focus on their core business.

Yesterday, he said the Government was trying to tighten up the general purpose "social, economic, environmental and cultural" clause of the Local Government Act.

"It's for local government to determine whether something is in their core and general area of responsibility or not."

Auckland was in a different position from Hamilton, where the V8s cost ratepayers $40 million and ledto a damning Audit New Zealand report. "The expenditure of any [Auckland] money presents some risk, but it's a more quantified and smaller risk arguably than was the situation in Hamilton simply because it's not a street race."

Auckland would have a bigger population to draw on, "so it's more likely that it will be successful".

Mr Key said the Government's $2.2 million contribution was a "relatively safe expenditure".

Last Thursday, the council's strategy and finance committee voted 9-5 to hold the annual V8 Supercars event at Pukekohe for five years despite Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development officials refusing to release a due diligence report and details of the risks to councillors.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has backed the process and expressed confidence in Ateed undertaking all the proper work to protect ratepayers and ensure a successful event.

Five councillors were unhappy at not being shown the due diligence report and risk details before being asked to spend $10.6 million of ratepayers' money.

The Auditor-General is investigating a complaint from councillor Cathy Casey on whether the council should have had access to the confidential information.

Last night, the National MP for Botany and former Auckland councillor Jami-Lee Ross said the local government reforms would not stop councils getting involved in events with a positive economic impact, but suspected the answers to whether the V8s were the right event lay within the documents withheld from councillors.

"It looks like quite poor decisions are being made when councillors vote on multimillion-dollar expenditure after being refused critical information by their own subsidiary organisation."

Conflict of interest claim rejected

The council official in charge of bringing the V8s to Pukekohe, Jennah Wootten, does not have a conflict of interest between her job and the Wootten family racing business, Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development chief executive Brett O'Riley said last night.

The Whale Oil blog yesterday ran an item about a possible conflict of interest because of Ms Wootten relationship with the motor racing fraternity.

It said her brother, Alastair Wootten, had a website that on Monday listed Jennah Wootten as sponsorship director. Yesterday, her name and details were removed from the website.

"This V8 saga is getting murky," the Whaleoil blog, run by Aucklander Cameron Slater, said.

Mr O'Riley said Ms Wootten was not a director or benefactor of the Wootten family racing business, Dart International Ltd. She removed her details because she had not been involved in the voluntary role of sponsorship director for more than 12 months.

THE PUBLIC COST

* $10.6 million - Auckland Council
* $2.2 million - Government.

- NZ Herald

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