Taxpayer funded cafes

The Taxpayers’ Union unearthed a gem of a story this week that highlights an ongoing trend of taxpayer funded cafes:

The Taxpayers’ Union has slammed taxpayer owned company for spending $1.2million on a staff café and reception area in a building where the lease expires in 2014.

In 2012, the taxpayer owned company spent $1.2million refurbishing its reception and building “The Wire” a place where, according to Transpower CEO Patrick Strange, personnel “can engage and collaborate with each other, and with our guests.

“We want to know how a $1.2million café and reception is better value than sending staff to one of the many cafés within a few hundred metres,” says Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams.  “With the time left on the lease, the cost works out at around $65,000 per month.  That’s a lot of free coffee for only 450 staff.”

“This is a taxpayer owned, state monopoly that instead of keeping our electricity prices reasonable or paying dividends back to the Government, has thrown money into building its own exclusive café in the middle of Wellington’s CBD.”

At a time when retail is finding it tough and the Wellington economy certainly needs a bit of a lift wouldn’t it be more prudent and for the ‘greater good’ to save the $1.2M and encourage staff to lunch or meet in cafes nearby.  Off the top of my  head there are around thirty cafes within a few hundred metres of Transpower.  Perhaps an option could have been to have a scaled down reception area and a couple of meeting or collaborative spaces.

How hard is it for public sector CEOs and management to consider how they spend the tax and rate payer dollar?  Is there really proven staff productivity gains?  Perhaps Dr Strange could provide the evidence for why the $1.2M refurb was needed.

Transpower is not alone.  Treasury [DPF: their cafe was closed many years ago] and others have had taxpayer subsidised cafes over the  years.  At the local government level most of the big councils have on-site cafes.  Just imagine if the staff (who are often major employers in a localised area) chose to spend their money in local shops and cafes.  First, any suggestions of dying CBDs (such as in Hamilton and Wellington to an extent) might get a bit of a lift plus it would be one of the easiest economic development policies implemented.

Ultimately, CEOs need to balance staff contentment with appropriate spend of the taxpayer and ratepayer dollar.

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