Thursday, February 20, 2014

The last thing Auckland needs...

By John Minto  /   February 19, 2014, Daily Blog

[Auckland Mayor] Len Brown is about to hoist a parasitic private sector consortium onto the backs of Auckland ratepayers.

Brown’s so-called “Skypath” project is a cycleway/pathway across Auckland Harbour Bridge which the Mayor says will enable people to bike or walk from Devonport to St Heliers.

The concept is good, the implementation long overdue and Brown is right to say it will be a “game-changer” for cycling and pedestrian travel around Auckland.

But Brown is proposing it be built by a so-called public-private partnership or PPP and is promoting the idea in a speech to be delivered today (foreshadowed by the New Zealand Herald yesterday) to the Greater East Tamaki Business Association.

Brown’s speech is quoted as saying “The SkyPath will be Auckland’s first public private partnership (PPP) … This is a chance to cut our teeth on PPPs and show that we can deliver real value for money and better outcomes for ratepayers.”

The last sentence is pure sophistry. The big majority of PPPs across the globe are deals that guarantee the profits of private sector investors while ensuring the risks are met by ratepayers or taxpayers. PPPs are a parasitic relationship where the private sector feeds off the public sector host.

None of us should be under any illusion that Brown’s Council will be able to negotiate a deal which gives “real value for money and better outcomes ratepayers” with a legion of corporate lawyers.

The fact the corporate sector love PPPs is the very reason we should reject them out of hand. If this one goes ahead it will be a millstone around ratepayers’ necks for decades to come.

The council can borrow, build and run such a cycleway more cheaply than the private sector.

But the cost should not be met by borrowing anyway. The money should come from the billions of capital spent each year on new tarseal highways traversing Auckland – roads we won’t need if we develop integrated, free public transport on buses, trains and ferries across the city.

The rest of Brown’s speech promotes the usual business mantra for Auckland – aiming for growth of five to six percent; shifting to an export focussed economy; greater migration to promote growth and the need to attract more international investment and talent. We’ve heard it all before.

On the other hand his speech says nothing about the living wage. He has given up this fight before it’s started. Business doesn’t want it so Brown will oblige by stifling it as far as it could apply to Auckland City.

The most interesting thing about Brown is that he is referred to as a centre-left Mayor but where’s the evidence? Instead he’s taking on a David-Lange-type role – a smiling, cheerful, labourish persona which acts as the public face for a deeply right-wing policy prescription.

And like David Lange, Len Brown is tolerated by right-wing businesspeople, not because they like him but because he is eminently malleable to their demands.

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