Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Council forks out $10.5m for travel

Councillor says expensive trips show bureaucracy has lost touch with the needs and wants of ratepayers.

Mayor Len Brown's office spent $159,000 on trade missions to Asia and the Pacific in one year. Photo / NZPA
Mayor Len Brown's office spent $159,000 on trade missions to Asia and the Pacific in one year. Photo / NZPA

Brazil, Nepal and Finland are among far-flung countries visited by Super City staff, who have racked up a $10.5 million domestic and international travel bill in two years.

The biggest travel bill, of $6.1 million, is tagged to Auckland Council, but two council bodies - Auckland Transport and Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed) - spent $1.35 million and $1.1 million respectively.

Auckland Council Property, which manages the council's non-core property portfolio, and Auckland Council Investments, which manages council investments such as the port and airport shares, had the smallest travel bills at $15,201 and $4461 respectively.

Councillor Cameron Brewer, who obtained the figures under the local government Official Information Act, said ratepayers were coughing up for dozens of expensive overseas trips while the mowing of grass berms in the old Auckland City area was on the block.

"This globetrotting has to stop. The bureaucracy has clearly lost touch with what ratepayers primarily want from their council.

"They've just about visited everywhere except Africa and Antarctica," said Mr Brewer, who wants the council to make more use of the internet.

Council chief executive Doug McKay defended the travel bill, saying the bulk of travel was within New Zealand and reflected the size of the organisation with significant national commitments.

Mr McKay said there were a number of reasons for travelling overseas. Some council bodies, such as Ateed, Auckland Transport, Auckland Zoo and the Auckland Museum had international interests and commitments, he said.

He said overseas travel by his own office of $83,227 in 18 months was for chief finance officer Andrew McKenzie and treasurer Mark Butcher to talk to investors, credit rating agencies, banks and financiers.

These meetings had contributed to a 0.25 per cent reduction in council debt that had led to savings of $12.5 million a year.

"This travel spend is an excellent return on investment for ratepayers," said Mr McKay.

The figures provided to Mr Brewer do not give details of which officers travelled where, but the destinations show a large number of countries were visited.

Ateed chief executive Brett O'Riley said to achieve the goals of making Auckland more business-friendly, internationally connected and export-driven, staff needed to travel overseas.

Overseas travel included presence at a regional entrepreneur accelerator programme in Edinburgh, taking part in a global technology mission to San Francisco and trade missions to Rarotonga and Taipei/Seoul led by Mayor Len Brown.

The mayor's office spent $159,000 on leading three trade missions to Asia and the Pacific in one year.

A spokesman for Mr Brown said: "These trips give Auckland businesses access to some of our key trading partners and open up new business and trade opportunities."

- NZ Herald

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