Mood of the Boardroom: Business leaders weigh in on Auckland mayoral candidates
Wayne Brown is, by far, the best candidate to become Auckland’s next mayor in the eyes of business.
When asked in the Herald’s Mood of the Boardroom survey which of the top polling candidates of New Zealand’s commercial city has the best attributes to become an effective Mayor of Auckland, 51 per cent plumped for businessman Brown.
“I have been on a board chaired by Wayne Brown,” says one professional director. “He is the kind of no-nonsense person who would cut through many of Auckland’s problems assuming he has at least some support around the council table.”
Brown is regarded as a disruptive player who will get things done.
He is a former mayor of the Far North District Council, serving two terms before being tossed out at the 2013 local elections.
He has chaired Auckland DHB and led a suite of other large organisations with a turnover of more than $1 billion, been a director or chair of various Crown-owned companies and recently led the North Island Supply Chain review for the Labour-NZ First Coalition Government, which recommended shifting Auckland’s port to Northland. A top chairperson suggests he is a “cantankerous man” and will bully his way to ensure things get done — noting that “three years will be enough!”
Efeso Collins, who was elected to Auckland Council at the 2016 local elections, trailed far behind in second place on the survey, receiving the nod from 16 per cent of respondents.
Collins promotes himself as an inclusive candidate, who worked in youth development and community liaison roles before entering politics.
“Collins’ main qualifications for the role are that he is not Wayne Brown, and he knows how council works with all its frustrations,” says a boss in the real estate sector. “Why anyone wants this job is a mystery to me — the mayor is set up to fail with one vote and a host of people whose main position on any proposal is ‘no’.”
Viv Beck, who just last week pulled out of the race so as not to split the centre-right vote (although her name remains on voting papers), received endorsement from just 12 per cent of respondents. She had stood aside from her role as CEO of Heart of the City, but failed to make cut-through and became mired in campaign financing issues.
“Viv has imploded — although I thought she was pretty capable,” says another respondent.
Just two people thought Craig Lord was best placed to become Auckland’s mayor, while 19 per cent say don’t know or prefer someone else.
“None of these excite me, we need new leadership with a vision for the future,” says Harcourts managing director Bryan Thomson.
“What a tragic set of choices,” was the response from an investment firm partner, summarising the mood of many of those who commented.
What do CEOs think of the flagship policies?
Ports of Auckland proposal not achievable
Brown says he will demand Ports of Auckland pay the city $400 million a year in ground rent to force it to start freeing up land for more valuable uses than freight and car imports.
But half of the survey respondents — 52 per cent — say that this will not be achievable. “It is a simplistic soundbite that doesn’t address the multitude of interrelated issues,” says Deloitte chair Thomas Pippos.
“It is 100 per cent Council-owned,” says a top boss in the travel sector. “If he sends it bankrupt the Council will end up recycling the $400m back to the port company.”
Accordant chair Simon Bennett says: “Show me a business that is struggling to remain viable that is able to find $400 million spare.”
But 21 per cent think the proposal is a step in the right direction. Others were unsure. From one entrepreneur: “About time. Ports of Auckland has blatantly disregarded public voice when extending footprint. Their control needs to be curbed.”
Low support for free public transport
Collins’ flagship free public transport policy has been estimated by Auckland Transport to cost about $130m initially, rising to $500m by 2030.
Just 23 per cent of business leaders agree with this flagship policy, with those in favour hoping it may solve wider challenges across the city.
A property boss says that fares-free public transport will “give us a fighting chance of making inroads on our terrible traffic and climate failure.”
Another chief executive reckons: “On balance when considering traffic congestion, climate issues, and cost of living pressures in Auckland it becomes a credible alternative.”
A high-profile chairperson suggests the cost will be minimal when you factor in how much fares are subsidised already — “and getting people out of cars is the only way to reduce congestion, as you will never be able to build roads fast enough.”
Some 58 per cent are against the policy, with several respondents suggesting it is the frequency and accessibility of services that prevent people from using public transport, rather than the cost.
“This would involve substantial loss of revenue but would probably not result in substantially increased use of public transport,” says one chairperson. Another asks: “Why subsidise everybody, including tourists?”
Though Beck is no longer in the race, her plan to scrap the Government’s $14.6 billion light rail project and replace it with practical, cheaper and quicker solutions across the city including better bus services drew favour from respondents, with 42 per cent of respondents agreeing with the proposal.
“Long term, Auckland is going to require light rail, but the current plan is not the right one,” says a professional services chief executive.
But 27 per cent disagreed with Beck, with some noting that bus capacity has been reached.
“That is why light rail is being proposed — Symonds St is done,” notes an investor.