Council bends rules to give ex-staff contracts

By Bernard Orsman

Auckland City chief executive David Rankin and senior managers have bent the rules to hand out millions of dollars in consultancy work to former staff, official papers show.

Mr Rankin, first as finance director and then chief executive, has overseen payment of $8.7 million over the past four years in consultancy fees to 29 former staff and companies linked to former staff.

In many cases, senior staff have not followed policy of requiring a competitive process or obtaining written quotes before giving contracts to consultants with close links to the council.

The rules state that contracts worth more than $200,000 require an open competitive process.

Three written quotes should be obtained for contracts between $20,000 and $200,000, and at least one quote for contracts under $20,000.

The news follows revelations last week that council spending on consultants is budgeted to soar to $62.2 million this year, up 9.6 per cent on the $56.7 million budgeted.

Mayor John Banks, who last year campaigned to rid the council of waste, said he was "hugely concerned" about staff leaving the council and coming back as private consultants.

Last night, Mr Rankin said the rules allowed for flexibility when issues such as time availability and skill shortages made it better to negotiate directly.

He rejected any suggestion of jobs for the boys, saying former staff were evaluated and treated like other consultants.

In some cases, former staff had acquired knowledge and skills that were valuable to the council.

"It makes commercial sense to bring in external expertise when it is required rather than permanently increasing staffing numbers," he said.

Consultants to have benefited are former council director Grant Kirby and Ascari Partners, according to papers obtained by the Herald under the Official Information Act.

Apart from $45,709 paid to former officer Steve McDowell for training work, the council has not named other former staff who have come back on the payroll as consultants, citing privacy issues.

Mr Kirby, who left the council in 1993 after a long career to become a consultant, has made $735,298 over the past four years.

This includes $465,068 for work on the revised eastern highway, $156,956 on a regional funding bill for cultural and rescue services and the zoo, and $85,863 on central-city redevelopment.

Ascari Partners has banked $852,960 for work on the revised eastern highway and Britomart and $2,246,098 for a variety of jobs ranging from the Tank Farm redevelopment to a new library on Waiheke Island.

Lawyer Jane Simmonds, who worked with Mr Kirby on the eastern highway and other council projects, and former council officer John Williamson are the directors of Ascari Partners.

The papers show Mr Kirby and Ascari Partners gained a lot of work through non-contested contracts.

The main exception was the revised eastern highway and Britomart, for which they contested the contract to comply with Land Transport NZ funding subsidy requirements.

These contracts were approved and funded in conjunction with the Manukau City Council and Auckland Regional Transport Authority.

The council gave one example of an unsuccessful Ascari bid, for a project management contract for the Otahuhu recreation precinct.

It listed 11 non-contested contracts to Ascari worth $2.24 million in the past four years.

Mayor Banks said Mr Kirby and Jane Simmonds, who has worked extensively for the council but never been an employee, were high-quality individuals.

Other ex-staff were not in the same league, but had managed to come back and cost ratepayers twice as much as they did as council employees.

Mr Banks said he was trying to get on top of the issue of consultants and contractors.

Last week, the council's finance and strategy committee passed measures, including random audits, to control spending on consultants.

* WHO GOT WHAT

$8.7 million - bill to 29 former staff hired as consultants in the past four years.

Grant Kirby
Ex-council director

Contested work $465,068

Non-contested work $270,230

Total $735,298

Ascari Partners

Contested work $852,960

Non-contested work $2,246,098

Total $3,099,058

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 30 Dec 2014 00:33:11 Processing Time: 543ms