15 May 2020

Budget 2020: Applause and dismay echo in reactions

7:56 am on 15 May 2020

The winners from yesterday's Budget are applauding the big numbers, while those who missed out are left reeling and anxious for the future.

Tourists on Fox Glacier in 2009,

Glacier Guiding chief executive Rob Jewell will get to keep his 58 full-time staff - at least for now. Photo: Rafael Ben-Ari / 123RF

At the heart of it is a $4 billion business support package to fight the impact of Covid-19 and steer the economy back on track.

The government has rolled over the wage subsidy scheme for eight weeks beyond the initial 12 weeks.

That has allowed Fox Glacier Guiding chief executive Rob Jewell to keep his 58 full-time staff - at least for now.

With 97 percent of his customers from overseas, he would definitely meet the new threshold of losing at least half of his turnover, he said.

"Has my business been affected more than 50 percent? Hell yes. We're managing to hang onto people while there's the wage subsidy. But as soon as that's not there, it's going to get ugly."

The big winner in the transport budget was rail, with $1.2b earmarked for replacing ageing trains, Interislander ferries and infrastructure.

KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller said it was a once-in-a generation spend.

KiwiRail Wairoa to Napier line.

Photo: Supplied / KiwiRail

"This is the most capital invested in the ships that have plied the Cook Strait for 60 years, so it's a major uplift for our team and our customers, and we're out to do the best we can with the capital."

A total of $1.1b has been set aside for the environment, with a focus on creating "nature-based" jobs.

Otago University Centre for Sustainability director Dr Janet Stephenson said Grant Robertson missed an opportunity to steer the economy in a more sustainable direction.

"Where are our low carbon investments? Where are our investments in building resilience to climate change? Where are those big changes happening? It's very hard to see where they are."

In education, there was $1.6b for vocational training and apprenticeships and $333m over four years to fund more places at universities.

Early childhood centre learning. (File pic)

Photo: 123rf

But the pandemic ended the government's earlier promise of more cash for early childhood.

Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand chief executive Kathy Wolfe said only those teachers at the bottom of the pay scale would benefit from the pay rise, and a 1.6 percent increase to subsidies was negligible.

"We really thought that it would be our year this year in terms of getting a quite a good injection of funding into the early childhood sector," Wolfe said.

"It's really disappointing especially under Covid, when teachers are being called on to do so much more in terms of supporting children and their whānau through the Covid environment."

Principals Federation head Perry Rush agreed it was thin pickings for schools - but extending the free school lunch scheme would help.

"It's really an impossible thing to be focusing students on learning if they are coming to school hungry," Rush said.

"So here's a targeted programme at some of our most challenged communities and that's going to make a difference for many of our young people."

The government has committed to building 8000 new state houses over the next four to five years in partnership with community housing providers - at a cost of $5b.

That money is not actually included in the Budget because the housing agency, Kāinga Ora, must borrow it.

Community Housing Aotearoa chief executive Scott Figenshow said this fell well short of what was needed, with about 16,000 households on the waiting list as of the end of March.

"Fifteen-thousand new social housing places would have been a better fit given the profile of need that currently exists, plus being able to anticipate some additional need for families that we are worried are going to continue to have housing stress as the economic impacts of the pandemic roll forward."

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