Revealed: Councils spent over $100,000 on 2018 Christmas parties

In the lead-up to local body elections, Newshub can reveal the amount of money spent by local Government on Christmas parties in 2018. All up, at least, $106,305 was dished out 

The Southland District Council was the biggest spender, with $18,598 going towards end-of-year celebrations.

The Mayor and Councillors spent $8155 alone on a Transport World automotive experience, a vintage car museum, in Invercargill - $4552 went towards catering and $2603 on accommodation.

Chief executive Steve Ruru told Newshub the money was well-spent.

"It's a matter of acknowledging the contribution that our people have made. They certainly make a big contribution in all sorts of occasions over the year towards the district. That's what we're very much focused on."

At the opposite end of the country, Northland Regional Council spent just $718 on its festivities. $425 was used on food, which catered for around 211 employees. A council spokesperson declined to comment "because it's local body election year".

Auckland Council and Wellington City Council didn't provide Newshub with overall figures, and not all councils provided how many staff they were catering for.

Auckland refused to release how much ratepayer money was spent as it would require "substantial collation or research". It said there could've been more than 40 different Christmas functions of varying descriptions. There is a $35 per person budget limit.

council spending graphic
Photo credit: Newshub.
Newshub. council spending graphic
Photo credit: Newshub.

Wellington said it doesn't hold the information. There is no single Christmas celebration for all staff at Council. Each of the Council's directorates or business units arrange their own. There is a limit of up to $30 per person, however more can be spent if funds are raised independently. Newshub was supplied with five directorates who spent $44,565 on Christmas parties. The council couldn't be reached for comment to clarify the numbers.

Christchurch revealed no ratepayer funds are spent on Christmas parties of any description.

Dunedin City Council also spent up large, with $17,155 going towards events - $15,203 went towards the Christmas party, of which $10,158 was on food. The Mayor and Councillors had another function which racked up $1,952. 

Chief executive Dr Sue Bidrose says it was money well spent.

"Local government workers, just like everyone else, greatly benefit from a chance to come together, talk about their year's hard work and catch up with colleagues from across the organisation,'' she said. 

And $11,357 was spent by Taranaki Regional Council. No detail was released about what it was spent on.

A $10,349 lunch was put on for Palmerston North City Council. $1,142 went to alcohol, $488 was spent on icecream and $350 on a performer. Two-hundred and ninety-seven staff members attended, which translated to $34.80 per person. Chief executive Heather Shotter says the event was hosted with "prudent expenditure". 

"We have around 600 staff who work tirelessly throughout the year, and the end of the year lunch on the last day is the traditional way to thank staff for their year's work and wish them well for the holiday season. It is totally reasonable to acknowledge our staff and end the calendar work year in this way."

Ice cream put on for Palmerston North City Council staff.
Photo credit: File

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council spent $9,685 on two events - $7,670 was on the main council event, where $1525 was spent on bus hire to ferry staff from Tauranga and Rotorua to Whakatane return. A Councillor and executive leadership team also had a $2014 dinner. No alcohol was purchased at either event. The council says the costs were higher than usual because it couldn't hold the function at its office building due to renovations.

About $372 of Nelson City Council's $6,854 event went to children's entertainment. The council says the emphasis is on gathering staff in a social setting, rather than providing lavish food and drinks. 

Meanwhile Marlborough District Council spent $8,235 to "recognise employees", which included a $2,760 bar tab. It worked out at $29 per person.

Queenstown Lakes District Council spent $8660, of which $739 paid for "food/alcohol entertainment". The council has a $25 a head policy. It believes the cost was justifiable.

And $6,489 was spent by Hawke's Bay Regional Council. Among the spending, $997 went towards "a bouncy castle and extras", $750 on Add Some Fun games, $244 on scotch fillets and $43 on a Santa suit. The council told Newshub it worked out to be a low cost per person, staff helped to make it happen and no alcohol was provided.

Add Some Fun toys
Toys provided by Add Some Fun. Photo credit: Add Some Fun

West Coast Regional Council had a BYO staff function ($1,168) and a kids afternoon ($305) to wrap up its year, and $156 was spent on fish and chips for the children. Corporate services manager Robert Mallinson defended the spend, saying "it's just part of being a good employer".

Invercargill City Council spent $4749 for 400 staff. Chief executive Clare Hadley told Newshub, "It's appropriate that we bring some of the Christmas spirit of goodwill into the organisation, and bring people together, and recognise them for their efforts during their year."

Chatham Islands Council spent $1983. It said it was a small price to pay to acknowledge service.

ACT leader David Seymour told Newshub the spending is disappointing but not surprising.

"It's difficult to make hard rules about this stuff, but voters have a big opportunity this October to turf out Councillors, to turf out people who are there to just waste other people's money," he said.

"My message to candidates running up and down the country is look after the ratepayer first. They're the ones who pay the bills."