Health the big Bud­get win­ner

The Southland Times - - Front Page - Jo Moir

Cheaper doc­tor vis­its and a huge boost for hos­pi­tals form the cen­tre­piece of Labour’s first Bud­get in al­most a decade.

From De­cem­ber 1, about 600,000 Ki­wis will have cheaper ac­cess to doc­tors, with those who hold a Com­mu­nity Ser­vices card re­ceiv­ing up to $30 off GP vis­its.

The Coali­tion Gov­ern­ment is ex­tend­ing free doc­tor vis­its to un­der-14-year-olds – cur­rently they’re free for chil­dren aged up to 13.

The to­tal spend on health is $3.2 bil­lion in op­er­a­tional fund­ing and $850 mil­lion in cap­i­tal spend over the next four years.

This will pro­vide dis­trict health boards with an ex­tra $2.2b over four years to re­lieve in­creas­ing cost pres­sures which have put 19 of the 20 DHBs in deficit.

The Bud­get also al­lo­cates $750m of new cap­i­tal to tackle some of the most ur­gent build­ing prob­lems fac­ing hos­pi­tals.

The nurses in schools pro­gramme is be­ing ex­tended to decile 4 sec­ondary schools to reach an ex­tra 24,000 stu­dents.

The school sys­tem hasn’t re­ceived the cash in­jec­tion some might have hoped for. There is $394m to fund new schools and about 200 ad­di­tional class­rooms to cater for pop­u­la­tion growth and fur­ther cap­i­tal in­vest­ment for the Christchurch Schools Re­build pro­gramme.

The Coali­tion Gov­ern­ment has al­lo­cated a 1.6 per cent in­crease to schools’ op­er­a­tional fund­ing – up on the 1.3 per cent in last year’s Bud­get and the freeze on op­er­a­tional fund­ing in 2016.

How­ever, early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion is the fo­cus in this Bud­get, with $590m for new oper­at­ing fund­ing over the next four years.

That will come into force on Jan­uary 1 next year.

Both teacher unions, NZEI and PPTA, have ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment at what has been al­lo­cated for schools.

PPTA pres­i­dent Jack Boyle de­scribed it as a ‘‘missed op­por­tu­nity’’ and said that while it was ‘‘great the Gov­ern­ment is plan­ning for fu­ture roll growth’’

teach­ers were hop­ing for ‘‘more ac­tion’’ around de­clin­ing num­bers of teacher grad­u­ates, and teacher at­tri­tion.

Over­all, the Bud­get has pro­vided a sur­plus of $3.1b for this year, with an ex­pected rise to $3.7b by next year.

Hous­ing has been given new in­vest­ment of $234m, to in­crease so­cial hous­ing by 6400 homes over the next four years.

That ex­ceeds the Gov­ern­ment’s ear­lier com­mit­ment to build at least 1000 state houses each year, and in­creases it to 1600 a year but 400 less than the Hous­ing Min­is­ter had hoped for.

The Sal­va­tion Army said the coali­tion gov­ern­ment had tackled some as­pects of poverty and poor hous­ing but it wasn’t the ‘‘trans­for­ma­tional change hoped for’’.

In­vest­ment in the po­lice is not quite as it had been sold, with 880 of­fi­cers of the 1800 promised by the Gov­ern­ment funded by last year’s Bud­get un­der the pre­vi­ous Gov­ern­ment. Bud­get 2018 en­ables the re­cruit­ment of an ex­tra 920 of­fi­cers and 240 sup­port staff.

Trea­sury is fore­cast­ing eco­nomic growth of about 3 per cent per an­num on av­er­age over the next four years.

Wages are fore­cast to rise by an av­er­age 3.1 per cent over the same pe­riod and un­em­ploy­ment is ex­pected to fall to 4.1 per cent in late 2019.

Other no­table spends are $1.1b for foreign af­fairs – an­nounced by Foreign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Win­ston Peters last week. An ad­di­tional com­po­nent of that fund­ing is $100m for the Amer­ica’s Cup to sup­port Emi­rates Team NZ.

Re­search and de­vel­op­ment will get a $1b boost over four years, giv­ing busi­nesses spend­ing more than $100,000 a year on R&D 12.5 cents back for ev­ery dol­lar.

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