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How much did it cost? Council’s creative accounting for the Rugby World Cup

Temporary turf in Civic Square – part of the city council’s Rugby World Cup activities

Newswire report by Natalie Finnegan
Like a shopaholic justifying spending when there’s not enough money to pay for the basics, so the Wellington City Council has attempted to explain its Rugby World Cup spending.

On paper, the Council’s Cup budget seems low, at a vague number somewhere between $1.8 million and $5.7 million. The figure has prompted some community groups to question how the Council managed to keep costs down when Wellingtonians seem to have been given a lot of shiny toys over the past year.

It’s difficult for the Council to say exactly how much it’s spent on the Rugby World Cup, according to communications manager Richard MacLean. He says $1.8 million of extra funding was allocated to ‘extra’ Cup costs, and there were also projects budgeted in the 2010/11 Annual Plan, some of which were directly related to the cup, and others which had cross-over benefits.

Last year, former mayor Kerry Prendergast got in hot water with community groups about a reduction in arts and cultural funding available to them. Cuba Carnival organisers accused the Council of re-allocating spending to Cup events, which she denied. The Council claimed that the $500,000 the carnival organisers were refused was simply not available in a tough economic climate.

But then it spent $350,000 on a rugby sculpture. And last week the Council confirmed that $140,000 of arts and culture grants monies were allocated to the city’s Festival of Carnivale which was organised to support the Rugby World Cup.

After looking at the shopping list, NewsWire asked the council to explain how it much it had spent, and whether this money had be siphoned from other areas. Like a woman trying to explain a fresh pile of Mi Piaci bags to her husband, following are the Council’s justifications for its pre-Cup spend up:

I would have needed it at some point in the future, so why not buy it now – This is the reason given for spending $36,600 on the Maori Heritage Trail, $500,000 on new Courtenay Place toilets, and $4 million worth of work on Waterloo Quay road improvements, which were bought forward to ensure they were done before the RWC. It’s not clear from the information provided by the Council where the funding for these expenses came from.

They complement the rest of my wardrobe – The Weta Workshop sculpture, intended for the waterfront but placed instead on Jervois Quay, had a $350,000 price tag; the temporary village centered round the wharewaka cost $150,000; the Midland Park upgrade cost $760,000. All these projects were intended to enhance the vitality of the inner city, but only the first two were included in the Cup budget.

I will get so much use out of them – Some of the big ticket items that were pushed through in time for the Cup include the $47.5m indoor sports centre at Kilbirnie and the artificial turfs at Te Whaea and Wakefield Park which cost $1.8m and $3.2m respectively. The sports centre and the turfs were both used by RWC teams for training, but none of these costs was included in the formal budget.

Based on information provided by the Council, there are a number of different figures to consider.

Adding up the expenses listed under the “Areas of Focus for 2010/11: Rugby World Cup” section of its annual plan, the total comes to $5,734,600. Including other projects that were pushed through in time for the cup, the tally goes up to more than $70 million.

The Council signed a host regional agreement with the International Rugby Board which detailed its role in providing things like live sites (fan zone), training facilities, team welcomes and functions and branding, decorations and signage. However it refused to release the details of this agreement under the Official Information Act on the grounds that the information is commercially sensitive.

It appears that the answer to the question ‘how much did you spend?’ depends entirely on the way you cut it. If ratepayers want to know exactly how much of their money was spent on the Cup, it would be advisable for them to act like the thrifty husband and fossick through the bags until they find the receipts.

Natalie Finnegan is a Whitireia Polytechnic journalism student. She has an academic background in politics and international relations, and worked as a policy analyst across government before deciding to pursue a career in journalism. This article was first published in Whitireia’s Newswire.

2 comments:

  1. vryn evans, 11. October 2011, 15:15

    Dear Natalie, before you are captured by either of the two monopoly publishers as perhaps your future employer, be aware that next year the modestly paid (by his opinion) town clerk, oops Chief Executive Officer of the WCC Gary Poole will again be rewarded for his “prudent management” of the Council’s finances despite a rapidly increasing debt which will arguably be around $400 million this time next year. But, as you’ve now discovered, the WCC can fob off any investigation or indulge in rather creative accounting (which even the mayor will not understand) in order to placate those who dare question WCC’s money matters.

     
  2. Kb, 11. October 2011, 19:55

    The WCC is simply spending at will at present, well above its means to repay, making the presumption that Wellington region councils will be merged so all the new extra ratepayers from hutt & porirua will be able to pay the bills long term.

    I can only imagine the hilarity once the other councils flatly refuse any such nonsense.