There are many reasons to dislike Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown’s policies which generally put corporate welfare and private sector greed well ahead of the common good.

But he deserves praise for action to target and tackle “stupid” council spending such as the eye-watering sums spent on lawyers and accountants contracted from the private sector. Brown points out most of these services would be much cheaper if they were provided “in house” by lawyers, planners and accountants employed directly by the council. The excuse that councils need to employ specialists because “it’s all so complicated” are for the most part weasel-word justifications by bureaucrats largely unaccountable for spending public money.

The problems go much wider than lawyers and accountants however. They are hard-wired into the provision of all council services by local government regulations which require councils to put their work up for private tenders. This “market model” is supposed to be cheaper but any savings have been long lost after 35 years of neo-liberalism. Contracting companies of all sizes are acting like cartels with nods and winks to each other as they screw local and national government as well as the workers who actually do the jobs.

Take parks and reserves for example. Contractors will typically pay employees around $24 per hour but will charge councils $60 an hour per worker to get the job done. Yes there are other costs associated with employing staff but it has always been a crock. We are being shafted. And its impossible to prise the accounts open because the details are always withheld by bureaucrats citing “commercial sensitivity”.

The Labour government hasn’t raised even an eyebrow to suggest this problem needs fixing and yet it’s been an issue forever. The late Penny Bright referred to the “contractocracy” in local and national government which was screwing us. She was right.

The interesting thing is that this issue is being raised by a right-wing mayor. It seems Labour is determined to stay so close to the middle of the road that it is increasingly outflanked on the left by National or business interests.

Another example of this happened this week when the New Zealand Initiative – the organisation which replaced the notorious Business Roundtable – released a report saying “Universities have more managers and admin staff than academics: report”.

For 30 years tertiary educators have complained about “managerialism” – the massive increases in managers at universities based on a “low-trust” model for academics. Neo-liberalism says academics are naturally slack and unprofessional so need large numbers of managers. Labour used to complain about this once.

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The right wing is now calling this out. It’s another failure of neo-liberalism which should be highlighted and hammered by Labour but the party is trapped by political paralysis. Even the small flickers of progressive policy from David Parker on taxation have been snuffed out by the leadership.

Labour leaders are terrified to move off the white line in the middle of the road…

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