dave August 16, 2019 No Comments

The Government’s embattled transport agency NZTA has been on a spin doctor hiring spree.

NZTA nearly doubled the number of staff employed in media and communications roles between 2017 and 2019. 

This coincided with a deeply tumultuous period in NZTA’s history where it was found to be negligent as a regulator, a scandal which eventually cost a motorist his life.

National’s Transport Spokesperson Chris Bishop said the agency should be focusing on building roads, rather than hiring communications staff. The NZTA’s most recent quarterly report said the state highway building programme faced “significant funding pressure”.

“People around the country will be frustrated that the transport agency was able to find more money for comms pros and spin doctors but they can’t find money for road upgrades,” Bishop said. 

NZTA’s spend-up was revealed in an answer to a written Parliamentary question submitted by Bishop.

NZTA has beefed up its communications team whilst transport projects have stalled.
ALEX BURTON/STUFFNZTA has beefed up its communications team whilst transport projects have stalled.

The Agency employed the equivalent of 37 full-time permanent staff and three staff on fixed term contracts in media communications, marketing, stakeholder engagement and public affairs roles, as of July 2019.

This is nearly double the rate employed in July 2017, when the Agency employed 17.5 permanent staff and 8.6 fixed-term employees. The precise number of staff may differ, as the figures were calculated as full-time equivalents, rather than an exact number of both full-time and part-time staff.

A spokesperson for NZTA said that most of the communications team were involved in “community engagement activities”.

“In recent years a number of communications and engagement staff who were previously based within project teams have been brought in-house to work as one team, in order to lift our capacity and capability in this area, with a strong focus on community and stakeholder engagement,” the spokesperson said. 

The team’s role was to engage with people who would provide input on transport decisions, NZTA said.

MP for Hutt South Chris Bishop,left, and Mayor Ray Wallace campaigning for the Melling interchange, a stalled NZTA project.
KEVIN STENTMP for Hutt South Chris Bishop,left, and Mayor Ray Wallace campaigning for the Melling interchange, a stalled NZTA project.

NZTA has faced intense scrutiny this week as the full cost of the regulatory compliance scandal was laid bare. 

The law firm Meredeth Connell, which was hired to review the files of the sub-par WoF and license issuers at the heart of the scandal, was paid $7.2 million. 

Meanwhile NZTA has faced criticism that it has been unable to get crucial infrastructure projects built.

The incoming Government changed the agency’s focus away from large state-highways to local roads and public transport.

That led to some of the previous Government’s prestige roading projects being reassessed, meaning they’ll be unlikely to go ahead in their current form, if they go ahead at all.

But the new priorities have had a lagging effect on Transport spending, with NZTA seemingly unable to get its multi-billion dollar roading budget out the door. 

The agency has struggled to spend its quota for highway improvements, which have come $264.8 million under budget according to its latest quarterly report. This translates into many incomplete or delayed projects.SharePlayMuteCurrent Time0:00/Duration Time0:46Loaded: 0%Progress: 0% FullscreenSTUFFSpeed limits are too high on the majority of New Zealand roads, the NZ Transport Agency says.

The agency also says that multiple areas of the Transport budget face “significant funding pressure”. State highway projects, local road projects and public transport all face funding pressures. 

A spokesperson for Transport Minister Phil Twyford said the matter was operational and the Minister would not comment. 

Stuff

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