Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

'It was wrong of me' - John Banks backtracks on council job cuts

Auckland Mayor John Banks says he was "wrong" to suggest 40 per cent of council workers could lose their jobs under the new Super City structure.

Mr Banks, a frontrunner to be mayor of the proposed new greater Auckland Council, said today that the new council should need a great deal fewer staff than those currently employed across greater Auckland's eight councils.

"I would be surprised if the new council structure needed more than about 60 per cent of the staff that they've got at the moment," Mr Banks told Radio Live.

But this evening Mr Banks said he'd only been guessing when he threw out the 40 per cent figure.

"It was wrong of me to suggest at this time of uncertainty that up to 40 per cent of council workers could be at risk of losing their jobs," Mr Banks said.

He expects fewer jobs under the new single entity but doesn't know what that figure will be.

Earlier, Public Service Association national secretary Richard Wagstaff said there were 6800 council staff in Auckland, meaning 2700 could lose their jobs if Mr Banks' prediction was correct.

"These are hard-working Kiwis with families who provide 1.4 million Aucklanders with essential services like clean water, rubbish removal and roading," Mr Wagstaff said.

"As well as the human and social cost of laying off 2700 workers in a recession, this large-scale job cutting poses a real risk to essential services.

"The loss of skilled and experienced workers on this scale threatens to seriously undermine the delivery of services that 1.4 million Aucklanders use and rely on every day."

Mr Wagstaff said the PSA supported the recommendation from the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance that the city's local government workforce be retained until the new council structure is in place in October next year.

The PSA represents 2400 staff at Auckland's eight councils and council-controlled organisations.

Cabinet has not agreed on who will run the Auckland council transition agency, delaying an announcement that was expected to be made today.

Local Government Minister Rodney Hide was due to release the names following a Cabinet meeting today, however his spokeswoman told journalists that no decision had been reached.

Among other things the agency has the power to veto local bodies in the region and contracts worth more than $20,000.

Over the weekend Labour dragged out the debate on two bills to set up a single council in Auckland, but the Government introduced its own amendments to gazump Labour's efforts.

The first bill was passed into law and sets up the concept of a single council and a transition agency to manage the change, while the second which outlines broad detail about the council was sent to a special select committee for submissions.

Mr Hide said before Cabinet today that the transition agency was the first step toward "crunching" the seven councils and regional authority into one organisation.

"The councils will continue as business as usual, but what they need is somewhere to go to say `look we're thinking of making this decision, would this compromise the new council and ratepayers into the future?'," he told Radio New Zealand.

There was already a list of names of those who would be on the transition agency.

Mr Hide would not say who was on the list.

He said he hoped to release it this afternoon but required cabinet approval first.

"Well, we'll see," Mr Hide said, when questioned about who was likely to be on the agency.

- with NZPA

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