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Auckland Faces Service Cuts If Bill Not Passed

Embargoed until 3 p.m. Thursday February 21, 2008


Residents in Auckland Region Face Service Cuts If Funding Bill Not Passed

Residents in the fast-growing Auckland region will see cuts in the current service levels of several life saving services and a reduction in the quality and quantity of cultural experiences on offer, say the promoters of a Private Bill being considered by a Select Committee in Auckland today.

Ten voluntary organisations told Parliament’s Local Government and Environment Select Committee that they receive little funding support from any of the seven territorial councils in the region, with the exception of Auckland City Council, which contributes the bulk of all local body funding.

The organisations, say they cannot raise more money through ticket sales, donations, sponsorship and other funding, and that volunteers are increasingly spending time fund raising rather than providing core services. They are seeking legislation similar to the Acts which provide appropriate contributions from Auckland councils to help fund the Auckland War Memorial Museum and Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT).

Spokesman Steve Johns told the Select Committee that market research had shown strong public support for greater council funding, and an upper limit of 2% of council rates had been suggested in the draft Bill.

“The Auckland region is growing by about 30,000 people a year, and voluntary organisations have no show of keeping up with demand, or improving services without some assured funding to supplement their own fundraising efforts. If we can’t get the backing of the councils through this proposed legislation, people in the Auckland region will have to get ready for reduced services,” he warned.

“The performing arts are desperately short of money, and will have to limit the number of performances they can offer and the extent where they can reach out into the region with performances. Without proper funding, they will struggle to retain their talented performers in this country. ”

Mr Johns told the Select Committee that he was aware of suggestions that the issue of fair regional funding for the 10 organisations named in the Bill should await the outcome of this year’s Royal Commission looking at the governance of the Auckland region.

“However, there is no certainty about what the Royal Commission might recommend, or whether Parliament will enact legislation based on those recommendations. The whole process could take years. The funding need is urgent – if fair regional funding is not put in place this year, some of our organisations will have no alternative but to begin cutting services in the near future.”

Mr Johns, who is chief executive of Surf Lifesaving Northern Region, said his organisation could afford to patrol only 12 of the region’s 130 beaches, but nevertheless was on target for saving 750 lives in the current year.

“We will have to look at patrolling fewer beaches, shortening the season or reducing hours if we can’t get more money. It would be heart-breaking, but we would have to face reality”.

Mr Johns says water - loving Aucklanders, with one of the highest ratios of boat ownership in the world, and with three major harbours in their region, posed special difficulties for other safety organisations too.

“Coastguard, with 11,000 members, has to maintain rescue vessels on three separate harbours.

“New Zealanders have one of the worst drowning records in the western world, yet many schools in the region don’t even have a swimming pool, and Watersafe doesn’t have enough money to spread its wonderful education programmes out to all of our schools or reach the Maori, Pacific or Asian communities who are overrepresented in drowning statistics, particularly when fishing off rocks or swimming at surf beaches. “

Mr Johns said the sheer size of the Auckland region and its congested roads, meant that it could often take more than an hour to get an injured person to hospital, whereas this could be achieved in a fraction of the time in a helicopter.

“It is not a luxury. It can be the difference between life and death”, said Mr Johns.

“Auckland prides itself on being the City of Sails, but the region’s councils seem reluctant to properly fund one of the world’s best maritime museums celebrating our prowess in water based sports, preserving priceless historic vessels and recording Auckland’s maritime and social history.

“The Auckland region loves the international image, and uses it to attract tourists, but most of the councils seem a bit reluctant to put their hand in their pockets to help essential volunteer services survive”.

Mr Johns said the Select Committee should take notice of the strong public support for the 10 organisations promoting the Bill, and introduce legislation that ensures councils make an appropriate and enduring financial contribution to the organisations providing valued services to the region.

(Issued Wednesday 20th February 2008 by Star Public Relations 912 7827, on behalf of the 10 Promoters of the Bill.

Release embargoed until 3pm Thursday 21st February 2008.


ENDS

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