5 May 2015

Travel costs rocket after DOC restructure

10:14 am on 5 May 2015

The Department of Conservation spent $1 million more on travel alone as a result of a restructure designed to save money.

Lake Tasman and the Tasman Glacier in Aoraki National Park.

Lake Tasman and the Tasman Glacier in Aoraki National Park. Photo: 123rf

The department's restructure came into force in September 2013, combining 12 regions into six super regions with the loss of about 70 jobs.

In August 2013, just before the restructure, DOC's travel costs were $604,000. Last August that increased by $60,000 to $664,000.

For the first three months of 2014, travel spending ballooned - going up by $100,000 in January, $255,000 in February and $255,000 in March, compared with the same months in 2013.

In the calendar year, travel costs went from about $6 million to $7 million.

DOC chief financial officer Christeen MacKenzie said the increase was due to managers having to travel further to meet with staff.

"The reality of it is, is that when you have new managers at places it's actually really important that those people get the right context to their work and it was expected that in the initial stages there would be an increase in travel."

DOC said it had now started video conferencing and the travel costs would drop. In March this year spending dropped to below restructure levels.

Green Party conservation spokesperson Eugene Sage said the increased spending came as no surprise.

"It highlights what a disaster Nick Smith's restructuring of DOC has been. The major loss of staff in the field means managers and staff are having to travel more, so now we have the department spending a million dollars more on travel. That could have funded aerial 1080 control for pests over 59,000 hectares - that would be the equivalent of two Paparoa National Parks."

Forest and Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said it was not a small sum in the scheme of things.

"A million dollars is a lot of money for them. It would get you front-line staff which we desperately need and which they have been cutting back on etc.

"It would get you a lot of conservation and this is just one of the costs of the restructure - we've also lost really talented, dedicated people. Some 70 - 80 jobs went last year as a result of the restructure and people doing front-line work."

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