Auckland mayor Len Brown – we learn from the NZ Herald today – has returned from a month-long overseas holiday to a budget revolt by local boards.
A letter signed by all 21 local boards in his so-called super city expresses frustration and anger at a mayoral budget proposal to slash $1.3 billion in spending on parks, community and lifestyle.
This looks (at first blush) like a good thing, if it eases the burden on ratepayers.
But Alf is inclined to suspect the mayor does not really intend to lighten the burden on ratepayers and probably has been obliged to propose these cuts so he can spend much too much public money on other grandiose projects.
The local board chairs accordingly are unhappy.
“We have witnessed cuts in funding for local priorities,” said the board chairs, adding “community-based innovation has been stifled”.
“This is of key interest to local boards … we know that our communities value local facilities, parks and events for the liveability of their neighbourhood and to help build strong and inclusive communities,” the letter said.
Mangere-Otahuhu Local Board chairwoman Lydia Sosene said a wishlist of 50 projects her local board wanted for its deprived communities had been narrowed down to three capital projects over the next decade.
Alf suggests Mayor Brown hire some of the officials at the Ministry of Maori Development to help him.
They have done taxpayers a big favour by being abstemious with the millions of dollars budgeted to be thrown into the whanau ora trough.
We heard lots of squeals about this stewardship in the past week.
The squealers included the former Minister for Whanau Ora, Tariana Turia, who said underspending two years in a row and the roll-out of Whanau Ora was very poor.
She should have given ministry bosses a medal for underspending.
But no. She found other ways of making sure the money was all spent, among them going outside the state service to find other indigenous persons who would help her funnel the dosh to whanau.
The former Minister for Whānau Ora, Tariana Turia, who implemented the programme, has told Radio New Zealand that its rollout was poorly handled and there was a substantial underspend two years in a row.
Mrs Turia said she took funding out of Te Puni Kōkiri and put it into three commissioning agencies to ensure resources reached families more. She said the Government was not prepared to give it any more money when it was not spending what it had.
One whānau Ora agency Te Pou Matakana is chaired by Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, who said whānau ora was never meant to be complicated, but that is what has happened.
Raukawa-Tait – who seems to have slipped below the radar in recent years – says there would not be three commissioning agencies if things had worked out for Te Puni Kōkiri.
“The providers and whānau did not get the support that should have been provided. When there’s an underspend and you know that the needs are great, there are high needs for many, many whānau, then you have to question ‘why did that happen?’.”
Raukawa-Tait doesn’t accept Te Puni Kōkiri’s defence that only 1 percent, the equivalent of $1.5 million, was underspent.
“It’s a large piece of money that could have been used to provide support to whānau who have waited for that to be provided in a different way and it just didn’t materialise for some, and that’s really quite sad. There shouldn’t even be one dollar underspent when there is so much need.”
Te Pou Matakana falls under the umbrella of the National Urban Māori Authority, which is in charge of giving out $43.2 million to Whānau Ora providers.
The authority’s chair is Willie Jackson, who is praising Tariana Turia for speaking out and agrees the rollout of Whānau Ora has been too complicated.
“I commend the former minister for speaking out. I’m disappointed with the underspend because the need is huge and the minster is right on the mark.”
In another report, Jackson said there was no excuse for being short-changed, especially when the three new commissioning agents had been given so little.
The $43.2 million over four years was not enough and whanau would not get the help they need.
But how how much help do they need, as distinct from how much they want?