Housing NZ’s decision to hold a conference for 94 staff at the luxury Tongariro Resort raises serious issues about extravagance in the public service. My first instinct, like others, was to assume the worst and condemn the Ministry for its extravagance with public money.
Clearly $65,000 for a 90-person conference sure sounds like a lot of money, even if it includes $12,000 in travel costs and another $5,000 in extras. Per person accomodation and food worked out at $250 a night – a figure that on the face of it seems hard to justify.
So I decided to do a bit research. You see, I’ve got a friend who as part of her job books conferences for a large organisation. Last year she was tasked with booking a two-day conference for a similar number of people. She was under strict orders to keep costs to a minimum, so she chose a budget venue in the central North Island in order to minimise transport costs, booked people into shared accomodation and made sure all extra costs were kept to a minimum.
The cost? $40,000 for two days, or $222 per night for each person. That’s just $28 per person less than Housing NZ’s discount deal at the Tongariro Resort. Once she’d added the cost of transport and extras the price was upwards of $60,000.
Now I’m not going to argue that having public servants staying at a luxury resort is a good look when there are people on waiting lists to get into state houses and existing tenants wait weeks to get basic service, but if the Herald’s figures are anything to go by it seems Housing NZ genuinely got itself a bargain.
The real question here is this: political perceptions aside, is there anything fundamentally wrong about a public sector organisation giving its staff better accomodation for the same price as a budget venue?