Will Winston slay the NZRB’s excesses?

The race has been run, all parties have weighed in, correct weight has been signalled and the country has a new government. It is one which those in racing are now expecting to deliver on the ten point promise outlined in NZ First’s racing policy.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has also claimed the Racing portfolio, to the surprise of those who were unaware such a thing even existed, and expectations among those who were aware are high.

Prior to the election, there were two aspects of the policy which I did try and gain clarification around – without any joy. They weren’t major issues. I just asked some questions around timing and planning. Like everyone else, I will now sit back and wait for the policies to implemented and see just how my concerns are addressed.

One point which I hope the Minister will address straight out of the gates though is the following:

Urgently review the operations and costs of the New Zealand Racing Board.

About damned time really.

Earlier this year, with time on my hands, I delved into the NZRB annual reports online and charted the terrifying increase in staff numbers over the years, accompanied by an escalating cost to the industry in salaries.  By 2016’s annual report staff expenses totalled $66million – a fairly healthy chunk of the operating costs.

Those earning in excess of $100,000 – a mere 130-odd at the time of the 2016 Annual Report – were listed in $10,000 bands. For example, just 30 NZRB worker bees struggle along on salaries of $100,000-$110,000; 23 were finding it a little easier to afford their avocado-toast in the $110,000-$120,000 band – and so it went on right up the $350,000-$360,000 slot where there was just one lone body and then a leap to – presumably – the top man, all alone in the $650,000-660,000 bracket.

It was galling to discover there are apparently that many people employed at the NZRB who are considered to be doing enough to progress our industry to warrant that level of remuneration. Would it be more palatable if we were travelling better? Personally, I don’t think so.

So, because I had time on my hands I crafted an OIA request to determine how much they pay the other poor sods who are employed there. Possibly the ones who actually do the work!

The breakdown, when it came, was pretty depressing. Given the letter was dated February 2017 the “categorisation of NZRB employees” was dated “as at 31/7/2017” – quite possibly they meant 2016, or maybe they were gazing into the future. Anyway, at whatever date we are looking at, the permanent full-time employees totalled 488; permanent part-time was 270; fixed term 37; and casual 78, giving a grand total of 873.

The majority of those fulltime employees fell into the $40,000-$59,999 band (116); 65 were in the $60,000-$69,999; 53, $70,000-$79,999; 53, $80,000-$89,999; and 32, $90,000-$99,999.

The response to my request also broke the staffing down into business units, listing job titles (but no numbers under each title) total staff and total salary.

Each business unit reports to the GM of that unit and seven GMs, along with the CEO, comprise the “Leadership Team.” One GM, according to the information I was provided, manages both the Customer and On Course business units, the others control just one area.

The breakdown just to pay the people the Racing Board deems it necessary to run our industry is as follows (and please note, this includes permanent, fixed term and casual staff of NZRB as at February 2017):

Betting – total staff 69; total salary $4,667,624.75

Customer – total staff 341, $15,117,582.02

Finance – total staff 42, $4,500,671.94

Media & Content – total staff 181, $10,767,257.49

On Course – total staff 43, $1,940,530.06

People – total staff 10, $926,298.72

Services – total staff 99, $6,962,574.40

Technology – total staff 61, $5,743,734.00

In addition to the positions listed there were an additional 20 jobs listed under “current active recruitment” – some of these were seeking multiple appointments.

If you haven’t read these numbers and had to pick your jaw up off the floor then I would respectfully suggest you are suffering from Stockholm syndrome.

For too long we have tolerated a bloated, blinkered organisation which has ignored the needs of the industry it was set up to serve. Even as it blundered along, all the time telling us things were fine, we were on the cusp of something great, it assured us we needed to trust it. If you still believe this then you are a textbook case of Stockholm syndrome!

I may have become more than a little obsessed with the salary levels it takes to run racing because, as the Board was cranking up its staff numbers and the dollars WE forked out to pay them, out in the real world companies were streamlining.

The industry I moved back into when I left employment in racing had faced huge disruption and, accordingly, was cutting its cloth to embrace those changes. Over a period of eight years restructures and jobs being “disestablished” became the new normal and fewer people were left to do more work. And forget about wage increases and incentive payments!

Interestingly, I wouldn’t have been anywhere else. There is something inspiring about learning new skills; adapting to overcome problems as safety layers were removed; and taking your staff with you on a journey to a new frontier.  That happens when you have a passion for what you are doing!

In the meantime accountable, seemingly to no one, the Racing Board was morphing into a cumbersome, lumbering beast suckling 800+ employees, many who seemed to be there purely for the money.

Will Winston be the knight in shining armour to slay the dragon of the Board’s excesses? There are more than a few with actual skin in the game hoping that will be the case.

Stay tuned!

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Racing policies left in the gates

I had every intention of sharing and analysing the racing policies from each party in a timely fashion leading into Saturday’s election, but the pollies didn’t make it easy.

 

My initial requests were sent back in June. How hard could it be, right? My expectation was that there would be – at the very least – a document from the previous election. It could’ve been dragged out from wherever it was hidden away,  brushed off, tarted up and sent back out into the world. But no, it wasn’t that easy.

 

At this stage, I have to give a vote of thanks to the much-maligned Greens, who at least got off their butts and provided something in the way of policy.  Even if it did threaten to do away with the Racing Minister.

 

Interestingly, with the exception of Winston Peters, I believe that most of the other parties would (at least inwardly) support that move. They don’t really like racing people – it probably comes down to lack of understanding around the Racing Bill and how much government can actually do for them.  Answer: not a lot!

 

They also point to industry hierarchy opening encouraging the industry to support NZ First purely based on their racing policy. That policy hasn’t changed greatly in the past three years but, when I emailed some questions asking for more detail around how the stated goals would be achieved I was told the query had been forwarded to the senior media team.  

 

All I can say is that the senior media team must be pretty damned busy putting out all the fires in Winston’s wake because in spite of several follow-up emails I am still waiting.

 

Labour’s racing spokesman Kris Faafoi was pretty proactive responding to my initial request and, again after several follow-ups, the policy did appear.  He was also happy to address any questions around it.  I emailed some but again…still waiting.

 

The Nats, with our current racing minister David Bennett, should’ve been way more proactive. They are the guys with their fingers on the pulse and the minister should be across industry concerns.  I lost count of the interactions I had with his office (and the mind-numbingly moronic replies).

 

By the time I got the email advising me their policy was up online I had pretty much lost the will to live.

 

Meanwhile, Winston managed to steal a march with a story appearing online which erroneously claimed his was the only party with a racing policy. This was then followed by another story – which was basically a different version of the same story churned out every three years – where Sir Patrick Hogan extolled the industry to support Winston. Purely based on his “support” of the industry.

 

Just a matter of days before the election Winston is looking likely to – once again – be the Kingmaker.

 

Whether racing will be any better off is anyone’s guess.

If you do want to check out what Labour, National and NZ First have to offer check out their racing policies:

 

https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/nzlabour/pages/8556/attachments/original/1504503634/Racing_Policy.pdf?1504503634

 

https://www.national.org.nz/racing

 

http://www.nzfirst.org.nz/racing