Getting rid of pre-Budget distractions

Bill English.
Bill English.
Prime Minister Bill English continues to clear the decks of distracting detail before the release of Budget 2017 on May 25.

Yesterday, Mr English announced challenging new targets for the public service to ensure it continued to improve the lives of New Zealanders.

He also announced $321million in funding for social investment initiatives to help New Zealand's most vulnerable.

Earlier, Finance Minister Steven Joyce had announced $11billion in new infrastructure spending.

There is an expectation Messrs English and Joyce would help middle- and low-income families by adjusting tax thresholds, allowing those people to retain more of their income - not by tax cuts by by lifting the income levels before certain tax rates become effective.

Mr English said since the Government introduced the ''better public services'' targets in 2012, there had been tangible and long-lasting results in areas such as reduced welfare dependency, better educational achievement, improved healthcare and less serious crime.

''We want to build on that success ... we are setting new targets which outline my expectations of the public sector.

''In Budget 2017, we set a challenge to Government agencies - show us it will work and we will pay for it.''

The $321million social investment package would be $69million over four years on ensuring young New Zealanders got a better start to life, Mr English said.

The $69million included a national roll-out of the family start programme, an expansion of behavioural services for young children and a new programme to support preschool children with oral language needs and literacy difficulties.

Those programmes would help support children most at risk of long-term dysfunction by investing earlier to help them overcome barriers to leading successful lives, he said.

State Services Minister Paula Bennett said the 10 targets outlined by Mr English were challenging and would not be achieved easily.

The targets included:

Having 90% of pregnant women register with a lead maternity carer in their first trimester.

Reducing the number of hospital admissions for children 12 and under with preventable conditions.

Improving the literacy and numeracy of children, focusing on higher achievement of pupils in year eight.

Reducing the number of serious crime victims by 10,000.

Achieving a 20% reduction in the time it takes to house priority clients on the social housing register.

Mrs Bennett said the previous targets meant fewer children getting rheumatic fever and being physically abused, helped make communities safer and more people getting off benefits and into work.

Now, the Government was taking an all-of-government approach to focus on education, having proper access to health and housing, having fewer victims of crime and making sure public services were accessible to all.

Action plans would be released in coming months, she said.

Labour Party leader Andrew Little said National's promise to reduce child hospital admissions could only be kept by backing Labour's Healthy Homes Bill.

National promised to reduce child hospital admissions for preventable conditions by a quarter by 2021.

''They need to back my Bill for warm, dry, healthy homes.''

The majority of preventable hospital admissions for children were due to respiratory illnesses. Those diseases were caused and worsened by damp, cold, mouldy housing, he said.

The Healthy Homes Bill was due before Parliament next week.

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