The days of big salaries at Auckland Council's business units appear to be numbered with plans to bring them into line with the public sector.

An independent review of the five council-controlled organisations (CCOs) has recommended councillors have some say about CCO chief executives' pay and common salary bands for other staff.

CCO chief executive salaries are currently set by the unelected boards of the CCOs, who often obtain independent advice on comparable salaries in the public and private sector.

Executive salaries rile the public, says Miriam Dean, the QC who headed the review which has made 64 recommendations in a 100-page report released yesterday.

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Many people expressed surprise that the $775,000 salary paid to Watercare chief executive Raveen Jaduram was higher than the $698,000 salary paid to council chief executive Stephen Town, the review said.

Since the three members of the review panel began compiling their report, the council has appointed a new chief executive, Jim Stabback, on a salary of $600,000.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff has said no one in the council group should be paid more than the council chief executive. Jaduram and former Panuku chief executive Roger MacDonald sit outside the mayor's expectation.

Ateed runs the V8 Supercars in Pukekohe. Photo / Nick Reed
Ateed runs the V8 Supercars in Pukekohe. Photo / Nick Reed

The review quoted an unnamed senior council manager who said that on the whole CCOs paid more than for similar roles at the council.

"Some of them may use the same structure, but they do not make the same decisions we make," he said.

The review panel of Dean, consultant Doug Martin and former Manukau City Council chief executive Leigh Auton recommended the council should have a say on CCO chief executives' pay through a formal process that spells out politicians' expectations of them.

"CCOs are, after all, public sector entities, not private commercial companies, and their chief executives' remuneration must reflect this fact," the review said.

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The main recommendation of the review was a merger of Regional Facilities Auckland and Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed).

The two CCOs both work in the events space and as far back as 2011 a report argued there was too much double-up.

Ateed is responsible for major events like the V8 Supercars and the World Masters Games in 2017. It also runs big cultural festivals like the Lantern Festival, Diwali and Pasifika and sports events like the Auckland Marathon.

Regional Facilities runs the city's major event venues like the Aotea Centre, Civic Theatre, Mt Smart and Western Springs. It also runs the Auckland Art Gallery and Auckland Zoo, and gives money to Auckland Museum, Motat, Stardome and the Maritime Museum.

RFA and Ateed collaborate to attract events to Auckland, and they both run separate convention businesses.

Miriam Dean QC, has chaired the independent review panel. Photo / Ted Baghurst
Miriam Dean QC, has chaired the independent review panel. Photo / Ted Baghurst

Goff said he believed the merger made a lot of sense, saying there are potential savings of $67 million over 10 years, and he supported having one CCO to focus on making Auckland a good place to live, work, visit and invest in.

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He hoped councillors would make a decision on the merger this month, saying if it was approved, the new CCO could be up and running by Christmas.

There is no name for the new CCO, but it could have a simple name like Auckland Live or Auckland Events.

The review found the CCOs mostly worked well but there was a need for the council to provide them with a clear strategic direction and the CCOs to strike a balance between commercial and public interests.

However, the review found often the CCOs and the council were sometimes on different pages when it came to interpreting plans and strategies.

One example was Auckland Transport's adoption of lower speed limits, which "occurred in a strategy vacuum" and met with a backlash from councillors and residents.

The review was crtiical of how Auckland Transport introduced lower speed limits. Photo / Dean Purcell
The review was crtiical of how Auckland Transport introduced lower speed limits. Photo / Dean Purcell

The review also criticised the council for producing plans for the CCOs to follow with no funding to do it, citing local board plans and the Auckland Climate Action Plan.

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One measure in the action plan is "employment in low carbon and climate innovation as a share of employment and GDP in Auckland's economy".

"What this means, let alone how it might be put into practice and measured, is far from clear to us," the review said.

The review said "many councillors, local boards, residents and ratepayers groups complained of CCOs acting with 'too much freedom', but this criticism can be traced back to the lack of well-defined roles and responsibilities".