Auckland Mayor Len Brown has come under fire from a top-ranking city councillor for not publicly siding with the Ports of Auckland board in its handling of strife on the wharves.

Christine Fletcher, co-leader of the Citizens & Ratepayers group, said councillors should not be meddling with the management of the port but should support its board.

"I think the stoush with the unions is really coming to a head and I have confidence in the board and management and they need to know they have full support of the mayor.

"I would like the mayor to come out and give his full support to the board on whatever action they need to take to resolve this matter because it's really important we get the port back into a profitable situation."

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But Mr Brown, who is holidaying on Waiheke Island, did not return the Herald's call yesterday afternoon.

Through his office, he gave this reply to an emailed question asking what he was doing: "I urge the parties to seek a speedy resolution to the dispute. Auckland deserves a port that is competitive and ratepayers deserve a fair return on their investment."

The Ports of Auckland company is a major asset of the council-controlled investment company Auckland Council Investments Ltd, whose board is appointed by a council subcommittee.

The council sets and approves the company's statement of intent, which says the firm will improve the port's productivity and profitability.

In his statement, Mr Brown said the statement of intent delivered "a challenge" for the company and the workforce to double productivity, as measured by the return on equity, from 6.3 per cent to 12 over five years.

Peter McKinlay, director of local government at the Auckland University of Technology, said the mayor and councillors could not intervene because the port was held within a council-controlled organisation.

The situation was made more difficult by the Local Government Act requirement that councils ensure their investments earned an appropriate rate of return.

He said the mayor's statement was sufficiently neutral within the terms of the statement of intent, and gave three reasonable propositions - seeking a speedy resolution, wanting the port to be competitive and wanting it to provide a fair return.

"I would not advise the mayor or his office to go any further.

"It is not appropriate to go to the next stage and say how that ought to be done."

Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson said yesterday that Mayor Brown had been in touch.

"He wants a more productive, profitable port but he also wants to ensure we can do that in a collaborative and strategic way with the workforce.

"It's exactly what we have been trying to do."

Mr Gibson said he contacted all the port's customers about the industrial dispute.

"Obviously this has an impact on the supply chain and potentially means you are seeing people move away from the Ports of Auckland.

"We are seeing a leakage with smaller customers. You might find with smaller importers/exporters they are splitting their business over Tauranga and Auckland ports."