Auckland Mayor unpacks proposed arts and culture funding cuts

Publish Date : 27 Mar 2023
Arts and culture funding

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown said a better integrated and sustainable approach to funding arts and culture is needed for New Zealand’s largest and most diverse region.

In recent weeks, the Mayor has heard submissions from community groups and organisations as part of Auckland Council’s public consultation on the Annual Budget 2023/24.

“There is no doubt that arts and culture contribute to Auckland’s future economic and social cohesion, as well as promoting greater resilience within our communities,” Mayor Brown said.

“Our city needs a strong foundation to support the aspirations of our diverse communities. I appreciate that community groups reliant on council funding need greater certainty, and for that to happen we must all work to achieve financial sustainability.”

Auckland Council Group faces a $295 million gap in the Annual Budget 2023/24, not including unbudgeted costs for the City Rail Link and recovery from Cyclone Gabrielle and Auckland Anniversary flooding.

“It is difficult to evaluate or even quantify our total investment in Auckland’s arts and culture-related amenities, programmes, and events. At present, we have multiple funding streams, none of which are sector specific, and they’re spread across council, council-controlled organisations, and local boards,” Mayor Brown said.

The sources of funding most relevant to arts and culture include Regional Contestable Grants, Regional Services Funding, Tataki Auckland Unlimited (TAU), and Local Board Funding.

Based on advice from council staff, proposed reductions to these funding streams were among the only viable opportunities, beyond greater operational efficiencies, to achieve the immediate cost savings needed at this time.

“It’s unfortunate that some of our arts, culture, and community funding streams wound-up on the list of proposed operating cost reductions, due to uncommitted funds and the contractual flexibility in these areas,” Mayor Brown said.

“All items in a very limited pool of potential immediate cost savings went to public consultation with the support of the Governing Body. We must be clear on what matters most to all Aucklanders, rather than immediately defaulting to further rates hikes or more borrowing.” 

The Mayor is urging all Aucklanders to have their say on the Annual Budget 2023/24.

“Auckland Council’s public consultation on the annual budget already provides alternatives to the proposed funding cuts, such as increasing rates further, selling airport shares, and some prudent borrowing,” Mayor Brown said.

“An AA credit rating is not a licence to borrow money, and I would warn against the temptation to keep borrowing. Auckland Council has been spending more than it earns and is fast approaching $11.5 billion in debt. We need to maintain enough debt headroom to deal with unbudgeted costs like the City Rail Link and recovery from Cyclone Gabrielle and Auckland Anniversary flooding.”

Auckland Council Group continues to maintain a significant investment in arts and culture amenities, programmes, and events across the entire region, which is estimated to be at least $130 million after any of the proposed reductions.

To put this in perspective, Auckland Council provides around $120 million in wide-ranging grants each year to community organisations and third-party amenities, including the Auckland War Memorial Museum, MOTAT, and Auckland Festival Trust.

As part of this total spending on grants, the council is proposing $3 million in cost savings from Regional Contestable Grants, which not only support arts and culture, but also include sports and recreation, environment and natural heritage, community development, and regional events.

“Arts and culture cannot be the sole responsibility of Auckland Council, it’s a shared responsibility. The question we should be asking is, how can we all work together to support arts and culture in ways that are meaningful and more sustainable,” Mayor Brown said.

“I was surprised to learn that Auckland, which is home to a third of the country’s population, only received a quarter of Creative New Zealand’s funding.”

Public consultation on the Annual Budget 2023/24 closes on March 28.

“No decisions have been made yet. It’s important that we hear from the broadest range of Auckland’s diverse communities, and our response has to be proportionate,” Mayor Brown said.

“We will listen to what matters most to all Aucklanders. We will gather more granular information, and then we will start making decisions around the draft annual budget.”

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