• Mark Knoff-Thomas is the chief executive of the Newmarket Business Association.

It's an unenviable task, being the mayor of Auckland. Like those before him, Phil Goff has undoubtedly got his work cut out balancing the books, maintaining essential services and dealing with unprecedented transport and housing pressures.

Not only that, he has to manage the arrival of 122 new Aucklanders every day, while the population becomes increasingly frustrated and infrastructure groans under the strain. Population growth is forecast to continue at pace over the next 30 years with an additional 736,000 residents within that time, taking our total population to 2.2 million.

To address this, Goff's council's proposed annual budget has already adopted several ideas. In broad terms they include tinkering with rates and creating new revenue streams. Considering he has to stick with his 2.5 per cent election promise (and going any lower than that will be problematic for Auckland's infrastructure), do those ideas go far enough? Will they be enough?


One thing is for sure, the Auckland mayoralty is a tough gig. Goff has to pull dozens of rabbits out of just a handful of hats. In my view, the answer is to identify and address the root causes of the council's problems.

I'd go so far as to say the council is morbidly obese. Its structure, coupled with the surplus costs within it, are the main problem Goff should be tackling.

Pre-Super City there were 9430 full time equivalent employees across all councils. In the year immediately after the Super City merger that number was slashed back to 7200. Since then, we have seen it creep back up, year-on-year, and in 2015/16 we saw the total number of full time equivalents reach 9360, only 70 fewer than pre-merger. It's blatantly obvious Goff can save buckets of money here.

The council needs more money, desperately. But before it starts imposing new levies, a great way to regain the confidence of Aucklanders would be to take a hard look at the council structure and build business cases that stand or fall on their own merit. Those need to be undertaken across every department, every function, and indeed throughout every dysfunctional silo that the Super City was designed to eliminate.

My office, the Newmarket Business Association, like other business associations, deals with the council on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. There are numerous people working at the council who possess enormous talent, and are very good at what they do. There are simply too many of them.

When you have too many people without clear demarcation of their roles and responsibilities, you create overlap and wastage. On countless occasions we've been given the run-around, with months elapsing before simple outcomes were achieved.

What Aucklanders really want is for Mayor Goff to get his house in order, and show us that the council is being run as efficiently as it possibly can be.


Privately, many of my counterparts express the same sentiment, and have shared their own anecdotes with me - such as council meetings where six or seven people turn up when only one or two are required, and an Auckland Council employee being contracted to an independent supplier then sub-contracted back to a council controlled organisation - something that would simply not stack up in the private sector.

If you mention the words "Auckland Council" to the average Aucklander, more often than not they roll their eyes, sigh deeply and launch into their own tale of frustration at personal dealings with local government. So, the immediate opportunity for Goff is to rebuild the council, the trust people have towards it, and to regain credibility with our city.

We don't need an accommodation levy, which would serve as nothing more than an additional burden on business owners, many of whom are small family run motel units that have existing long-term contracts. A far more sensible approach would be for Government to apply a tax at our border.

And with regards to paying council staff the living wage, the remit to do this probably falls within the chief executive's scope. However, I suggest Goff should do whatever is needed so council staff are happy, engaged and productive, just don't increase costs to the ratepayer.

Under Goff's predecessor, Mayor Len Brown, Aucklanders faced annual rate increases that peaked at 9.9 per cent in 2015, stirring public anger. What Aucklanders really want is for Mayor Goff to get his house in order, and show us that the council is being run as efficiently as it possibly can be. Then, and only then, will ratepayers be more inclined to look at other ways to contribute.