Wayne Thompson

Wayne Thompson is a NZ Herald reporter.

Community message at the heart of trusts' pitch

Photo / APN
Photo / APN

Auckland's five licensing trusts are fighting to preserve levels of charity dollars from alcohol sales and poker machines, though some pin their hopes on diversifying into commercial property and running conference venues.

Elections for trustees for the trusts are being held in conjunction with the three-yearly local body elections in Auckland.

Leaders of these trusts urge residents to vote if they want to keep up the flow of grants from trading profits - in the face of tougher commercial competition and pressure to reduce harm from alcohol and gambling.

Trusts for Wiri and Birkenhead are bouncing back from historical losses, while Mt Wellington's has expanded into a lucrative hospitality niche since its liquor sales bled to supermarkets.

The two West Auckland trusts - Portage and Waitakere - have become substantial local businesses, together generating $100 million a year in sales and employing 400.

In the former Waitakere City area, trusts are the only liquor wholesaler and main retailer and operator of restaurants, bars and the Quality Hotel Lincoln Green in Henderson.

Portage president Ross Clow said that over the past three years, the trusts recommended to The Trusts Community Foundation that it return $30.7 million grants from gaming machines into local causes.

Mr Clow compares this rate of distribution with that of a trust linked to SkyCity, a public company in which West Auckland residents can also be shareholders and receive dividends.

SkyCity Auckland Community Trust states it has returned $31.2 million to 1900 organisations in the whole of Auckland since 1996.

However, a SkyCity spokeswoman said the company also contributed with sports sponsorships and helping charities with fundraising; for example, this year's Sky Tower Firefighters' Stair Challenge events raised $800,000 for Leukaemia and Blood Cancer New Zealand.

But Mr Clow says The Trusts Community Foundation's grant distribution of 47 per cent income is in stark contrast to Sky City Trust's 2.5 per cent distribution.

In addition to the foundation's gaming grants, TTCF intends to give away nearly $1 million this year of profits from its 43 businesses.

"That's why two-thirds of our community support a trust model of community ownership and management of liquor and gaming," he said. "It also gives the community the ability to manage the number of liquor stores and pokie outlets."

Newcomer candidates' claims that the trusts could do better get short shrift from Waitakere Trust president Linda Cooper.

"We recommend to The Trusts Community Foundation that it should make grants - we don't give it.

"But because we are locals we understand our areas and organisations' needs."

Mrs Cooper said trustees were part of a commercial business and had to consider other directions for profits; for example, enhancing the business by approving an $8 million refurbishment of bottle stores.

Why should people vote for trusts?

"Because the people own them," said Janet Clews, who has represented Glen Eden on the Portage Trust since it was formed in 1972 when the West voted to be "wet" instead of "dry".

A common complaint is that because of the trusts' hold, West Aucklanders pay more for their alcohol than they would, say, at supermarkets.

Mrs Clews says that is not true.

"There might be a small margin and yes, there are times when supermarkets' bulk-buying enables them to make a killing, but we can match them most of the time."

In South Auckland, the Wiri Trust has only one bar and leases out two others but it has $18 million in assets - mainly in commercial property.

Trust chairman Alan Johnson said important redevelopment projects were in hand. One trust property is 2.5ha of land in downtown Manukau.

Mr Johnson said the aim was to boost business profits to restore grants and donations to a former level of $150,000 a year.

The trust recommended where about $3 million a year in grants should go.

Mr Johnson said licensing trusts struggled in the liquor trade because they operated in a commercial environment yet were required to sell in a way that was socially responsible.

This made it desirable that people offering themselves as trustees had commercial experience.

Mt Wellington Trust president Alan Verrall said the trust had a turnover of $18 million and recommended annual grants of $1 million from gaming proceeds.

In addition to its Waipuna Hotel and Conference Centre, the trust has taken a lease at Highbrook Business Park in East Tamaki on a new conference facility.

"We are unique in making conferences our core business and we are doing well."

The trust's Landmark Bar in Panmure and Mt Wellington-Panmure RSA had joined forces, Mr Verrall said.

Business profits allowed the trust to make discretionary grants.

This will be the third year of pre-Christmas luncheons for 600 senior citizens; the trust supports food banks in Glen Innes and Mt Wellington.

Birkenhead Trust president Bill Plunkett said that since 1998 the business repaid debt while establishing two high-performing venues.

Its recommendations to the Lion Foundation gambling grants increased tenfold to $1 million a year.

The trust owns the Slip Inn, in Birkenhead, which is undergoing an extensive upgrade, and Inn Field in Glenfield.

Its charitable trust makes donations that gambling grants do not cover; for example, $30,000 for Windy Ridge School's computer system, which was damaged in a tornado.

- NZ Herald

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