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Budget cuts spare some nice to haves

May 21st, 2011 Top News


JOHN HARTEVELT

The Government admits it still has “a few things” on its books that count as “nice to haves” but it is not “rushing to randomly pick” them.

Thursday’s Budget included $9.9 million to host foreign dignitaries at the Rugby World Cup; $1m for the upkeep of New Zealand House in London; and a $5m boost to Sport and Recreation spending.

There was also a $6m boost for museum services; an extra $2m to promote Maori language and the cost of VIP transport had a small increase from $7.4m to $7.9m.

Prime Minister John Key and Finance Minister Bill English embarked on a campaign yesterday to sell the Budget to the electorate, with key changes dependent on re-election in November.

Mr English said there were “still a few things” that the Government was doing that it classified as nice to haves. “But we’re not rushing in to randomly pick those, we’ll be working with the public servants to work through what programmes we think are more effective, which ones are less effective, which back office we can do without.

“The Government is only really just starting now what households and businesses were doing two or three years ago and that is really buckling down to tighten their expenditure.”

In March, Mr English told the Institute of Public Administration that the economic climate meant it was “not a time we can afford to indulge in a whole lot of nice to haves”.

The Budget included widespread cuts, with $1.2 billion in operating spending to be slashed over four years.

However, Mr English admitted cash was still going towards some lower-priority programmes.

“We’ve spent a lot of time rearranging the funding, dropping programmes that the officials and often the people out in the field agree don’t work and put it to programmes that do work,” he said.

Included in the money set aside in the Budget was $441m for conservation.

A $12.8m budget for the identification and implementation of natural and historic places was boosted to $16.8m for 2011-12.

Conservation also gets $804,000 for grants to “support initiatives to protect traditional Maori knowledge relating to New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity”. It’s understood the funding is related to a Treaty claim.

Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson said the Conservation Department “would be looking at all its spending as the realities of the savings needed in the public service materialise”.

Labour leader Phil Goff said his party would also look for efficiencies and savings if elected. “We’re going to have to prioritise what we do and what’s going to have to wait.”

However, Mr Goff hit out at public sector cuts, which have been left to departmental chief executives to figure out.

“That is reneging on the responsibility they have as a government and as a Cabinet,” he said.

Mr Key said he did not know how many public sector jobs would go as a result of the cuts. “We’re asking the public service to save $1b over three years out of $100b worth of expenditure …

“We’re going to be constructive and careful in that process – the chief executives will drive that process themselves. But I think everyone who knows the system knows that there is the capacity for us to save money.”

Parliament remained under urgency last night and was expected to sit until midnight as it worked through the Budget legislation.

Nice To Haves?

Although the large screen production fund is cut by $21 million, there is still $106.6m set aside. The major events development fund gets a boost from $10.35m to $14m.

A funding injection for the promotion of New Zealand’s association with the America’s Cup is confirmed, with the $2m spent last year climbing to $19.75m this year.

There is $1.95m budgeted to fund a joint bid with Australia to host the “Square Kilometre Array” – a world-leading high-tech radio telescope.

Cash for collecting and enforcing fines and civil debts rises from $69m to $73.9m, and $4.9m is budgeted for hosting the Pacific Forum in Auckland in September.

A boost from $6.7m to $7.4m is included for “whakamana” (leadership) in Maori Affairs. The money supports “partnered interventions, tools and investigative studies to strengthen Maori leadership, governance and management to accelerate Maori development”.

Former governors-general have $435,000 budgeted for benefits and $430,000 is budgeted for the annuities and domestic travel of former prime ministers.

Sport and Recreation gets a near $5m boost to its budget, and the budget of high-performance sport rises from $48.3m to $53.3m.

– The Dominion Post

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