Campaign group's 'rich list' claims seven Auckland Council staff paid more than Prime Minister

Source: 1 NEWS

A campaign group's report detailing the salaries of the highest-paid staff at Auckland Council and its subsidiaries has been released this morning, claiming to show there are seven people paid more than Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Mayor Phil Goff says it's tough but necessary action.

The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance released the “Auckland Town Hall Rich List”, which claims 86 staff are currently paid more than $250,000. Of those, seven are said to be paid more than the Prime Minister, whose salary sits at $471,000, and 48 more than Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, who is on a salary of $296,000.

Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance spokesperson Jo Holmes said the list was “an exercise in transparency and accountability”.

“If someone is paid more than a Government minister, ratepayers should at the very least know who they are and what they do."

But Auckland Council has objected to the release, saying there are inaccuracies in the numbers. 

"We accept that that there is a degree of public interest in transparency and accountability for the value council attributes to the carrying out of senior roles," it wrote in a letter to the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union earlier this month. "However, there is strong privacy interest in the renumeration of an individual person."

The list claims 24 of those listed are employees of Auckland Transport, 11 are from Watercare, six are from Regional Facilities Auckland, five are from ATEED, and five are from Panuku Development.

Included in the seven said to be paid more than Ms Ardern are Watercare CEO Raveen Jaduram and Auckland Transport CEO Shane Ellison.

Of note, 71 per cent of those listed are men, with all six staff members claimed to be paid more than $500,000 being male.

The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance said research for the "rich list" was undertaken in cooperation with the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union, who plan to publish equivalent rich lists for councils across the country – a practice undertaken in Britain since 2007 by the UK TaxPayers’ Alliance.

"The UK Rich List makes for interesting comparisons. Essex County Council, which has a population similar to Auckland – about 1.4 million – pays 28 staff salaries higher than NZ$250,000, compared to Auckland Council’s 86," Ms Holmes said.

"The bureaucrats named in our list aren’t just well-paid – they enjoy a level of job security that insulates them from the current pressures facing Aucklanders who fund these high salaries through rates and levies, irrespective of their ability to pay.

Ms Holmes added compiling this list was not easy as Auckland Council and its CCOs preferred to provide remuneration ‘bands’ rather than exact salaries, so midpoints of those given figures were used.

The CCOs also refused to provide exact job titles, meaning some extrapolation was required to attempt to match names with salaries.

"While we would prefer the Council to publicise this kind of information itself with more detail, we are releasing our best effort now in the hope that it will spark debate within the public and around the council table."

With the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic becoming clearer by the day, the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance says now is the time for some on the list to follow the lead of others on large salaries.

"The release of the rich list comes as ratepayers’ livelihoods are threatened by the fallout of Covid-19. Despite this, Auckland Council is considering yet another rate hike of 2.5 or 3.5 per cent.

“Our message to the mayor is to look at costs within council before squeezing ratepayers during an economic crisis.

"We welcome early reports of salary cuts planned for council CEOs, but the Town Hall Rich List demonstrates these cuts can and must go far deeper."

In a stement today, the council said: "The information in the list they have published is inaccurate. As the NZTU say in their methodology, they have guessed the individual salaries based on salary ranges associated with position titles, provided to them by the council. The specific salaries have not been confirmed by the council or individual staff members, other than the Chief Executive. 

"We accept that there is a public interest in salary ranges for certain council roles, and we have already disclosed this information to the NZTU and it has also been made available on our website.

"However, beyond salary bands, these staff members’ specific salary details are their personal information (with the exception of Chief Executive Officers).  This is consistent with the position taken by the Ombudsman. We also question the manner in which the NZTU is presenting this information."