It’s been a busy start to the year with lots going on in both Wellington and Northcote.
As Minister of Defence, I have been fortunate to travel to London and Belgium where I met with international colleagues and participated in the re-burial of a NZ Brigade Unknown Soldier. I have had the opportunity to visit various Defence bases around the country and it’s been great to see the front line in action.
It is great to be able to come back to the electorate at the end of each week. I recently visited Northcote College to talk to a senior class about type 2 diabetes and the risks associated with obesity, attended the Northcote College Art Auction, attended the Glenfield community expo and visited Windy Ridge Primary School during the “Helping hands” working bee.
I am looking forward to the St Mary's School fair on the 31st of March – it’s always a lot of fun.
Please see below my last column from the North Shore Times for those who may have missed it.
Rate Rises Unsustainable
My campaign on the overgrowth of weeds across the North Shore generated a lot of positive feedback from people across the region. Raising the issue in the media also provoked an immediate response. Within a couple of days of the North Shore Times article highlighting the issue, there were teams of council staff out dealing to the weeds. It shouldn't have taken media coverage to get action but it's certainly much more effective than wading through layers of council bureaucracy.
While I'm concerned that we get our fair share of rates spend north of the bridge, I'm even more concerned that Auckland Council doesn't seem to acknowledge that every entity in the country from the individual household to the largest government department has spent the last three years figuring out how it can live within its means and has cut its cloth accordingly. When wages are growing at less than 2 per cent and for many people incomes are static, how on earth can the council expect 45,000 North Shore ratepayers to absorb proposed rate rises of 10 per cent year on year for the next three years?
On top of that the council is now suggesting a long list of ways to pay for Auckland's transport infrastructure over the coming decades. You will have seen it all on the front page of the Herald – bed taxes, a special GST for Auckland etc. As the Prime Minister indicated, it's central government that sets taxes, not councils. I don't think Aucklanders will have any appetite for increased costs at a time when household budgets are already extremely tight.
My suggestion is for Auckland Council to take a long hard look at its spending with a series of Value for Money reviews across all areas of council spending. It should be local government bureaucracy 101. Similar exercises across central government over the past three years have yielded savings of more than $1 billion out of a total Government spend of $73 billion a year. Those savings have been reinvested back into the country’s key priorities – health, education and infrastructure.
At a more local level, the council also needs to get a real feel for what ratepayers want to see their money being spent on. Too much money gets spent on too many projects that don't have real local buy-in or demand. While any given decision will never please everyone, presenting ratepayers with the financial reality of council spending choices in terms of impact on rates bills would get people thinking. All the little areas of council spend add up – and ultimately you pay for it through your rates bill.
My guess is that the people who are actually shouldering the burden of increasing rates bills will have a very different view on council spending to those who are not. The increases in rates across the North Shore are frankly not sustainable, and the council needs to have a major rethink on this one.