There were warnings last year, including here in this blog, that a nasty surprise was developing in the process of merging council IT systems for the new Auckland super city; that long-term costs were being buried by the Auckland Transition Agency to make the process look better. Today, in Bernard Orsman's story in the Herald, we finally get an idea of quite how nasty the surprise is: very.
It will cost the Auckland Council more than half a billion dollars over eight years to build new computer systems to conduct its business -- and a staggering $300 million of that had not been budgeted.
This rather dwarfs the previously-noted billshock that saw the ATA spend $53.8 million on a stopgap Auckland Council system to handle payrolls and the like -- while the newly-created Auckland Transport CCO, with 1000 employees and responsibility for a budget of more than half total rates revenue, adapted existing council systems to do the same thing for $2.2 million.
Even if we are charitable and assume that this is all simply the cost of equipping a robust unitary authority, it is not what we were told would happen. Local government minister Rodney Hide wrote in the Herald a year ago that projected $94 million establishment costs up until election of the first Auckland Council in November were "a drop in the bucket" compared to the $2 billion spent annually by Auckland's councils. "Decisions now made," he wrote in the passive tense, "also commit the new council to a further $66 million on IT to finish the job post November 1."
Given that, as The Aucklander has discovered, the new council has been obliged to spend $2 million a month on private outsourcing of planning work it no longer has staff to cover, it is not unreasonable to conclude that Hide's estimate of post-November establishment costs -- to which the transition authority he personally appointed has committed Auckland ratepayers -- will be out by a factor of 10.
Someone has to be accountable for this. And we, as ratepayers, also deserve to know what the agency, the minister, the Department of Internal Affairs, Cabinet and the Prime Minister knew about the real costs that were stacked up by an unelected body last year. And if it transpires that any or all of those parties knew that the costs would be far in excess of what we were told, then there is only one way of characterising what happened.
We were lied to.