Auckland ratepayers cough up $38k so Mayor Phil Goff, council staff can go on Blenheim trip

The trip to the Local Government New Zealand conference will cost $2410 per head.
The trip to the Local Government New Zealand conference will cost $2410 per head. Photo credit: File Image

Auckland ratepayers are coughing up $38,000 for Mayor Phil Goff and 15 other council staff to go on a trip to Blenheim. 

The trip to the annual Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) conference is three days long from July 15 to 17 and will cost $2410 per head.

According to the NZ Herald, Auckland Council discussed on Thursday whether the risk of the trip being seen as "junket" was worth it for the education staffers would receive. 

While some councillors objected to the cost behind the large number of staff heading to the event, Goff argued Auckland may look "arrogant" if only a small number were sent.

The theme for the conference is "reimagining Aotearoa from community up" and will feature speakers such as National Party leader Judith Collins, Housing Minister Megan Woods, economist Shamubeel Eaqub, and Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor. 

Alongside speakers, there is also a busy social itinerary including a cocktail evening, dinners at wineries, a black-tie dinner, and breakfast hosted by Michelle Dickinson - the cost of these events ranging from $50 to $160. 

Finance and performance committee chair Desley Simpson opposed sending 16 members the most vocally, reports the NZ Herald. 

Simpson argued only four members needed to attend, citing the council's financial struggles due to COVID-19. 

"I believe we should be at the table but I don't believe we should be at the numbers that are suggested.

"I've had a look at the programme and I don't believe there is anything on the programme by way of speakers etcetera that we can't access on our own," she said, as reported by the Herald. 

In November the council predicted the pandemic will punch a $1 billion hole in its finances by 2024. 

The city's budget had already been hammered by a $450 million deficit it had forecast in April 2020, and the council signed off an emergency budget with millions of dollars of cuts. The budget means Auckland will see no new sports fields, playgrounds, pools, libraries or community centres in 2021. 

Goff said sending less staff down to the 600 attendee event to cut costs would be seen as an "arrogant statement of disregard".

"I'm not one to advocate any extravagant expenditure or junkets, but this isn't a junket," he told the meeting, the NZ Herald reports.

Auckland councillor Richard Hills added there is often "a lot of Auckland hate" at such events prompting a need for a heavy presence. 

The recommendation to send 16 members to the conference was approved 15 votes to five.