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Howard's End: Tax & Spend UK Budget

Howard's End: Carrots For NZ Health Workers In UK Budget

New Zealand will have to work much harder to keep its doctor's and nurses from travelling to Britain following the announcement of a massive $NZ 20 billion house-building program mostly aimed at housing key health workers.

The British Government unveiled plans on Monday for the largest sustained jump in a budget in three decades - up $300 billion - to try and rebuild the nation's ailing health and transport systems and to bolster its defences in the fight against international terrorism.

A major problem for the Tony Blair's Government has been the chaotic state of the National Health Service bedevilled by long waiting lists, patients left lying on trolleys in hallways, reports of filth and unchecked disease in wards, and doctor's and nurses fleeing overseas for better pay.

Chancellor (Treasury Secretary) Gordon Brown's budgetary boost announced Monday includes funds earmarked for 40 new hospitals and the hiring of 35,000 new nurses.

Part of the problem is that low-paid young doctors and nurses could not afford liveable housing, particularly in cities like London, where even the cheapest houses go for seven times or more of their annual salary.

What's needed, Brown said, is affordable homes for "key workers."

The Chancellor announced that he was pouring $NZ 20 billion over five years into a massive house-building program to build such homes - a move described as the most sustained rise in a budget for housing in a quarter of a century.

In other budgetary moves Britain's dilapidated transport system is to receive a 12 per cent increase each year - $NZ 36 billion - by 2005-06.

Police are also set for an increase in numbers to 130,000 officers. The increases come in the wake of new police statistics showing crime in England and Wales climbed last year at the largest rate in a decade.

Meanwhile, Britain's prison population has grown to more than 71,000 - only a few hundred short of full capacity while illegal asylum seekers are threatening the future of the Channel Tunnel rail link between England and France.

The budgetary plans call for getting money up to $NZ 42 billion a year within three years to pay for more police, a reform of the asylum system and a strengthening of internal security in the battle to combat crime and terrorism.

Brown also announced a whopping increase in money for education, up from $NZ 140 billion to $NZ 181 billion over the next three years, a move Brown signalled as "the biggest sustained rise in education spending in a generation."

The military has not missed out either. Brown said defence spending - which had been cut to the bone - would rise by nearly $NZ 10 billion a year to $NZ 105 billion by 2005-06.

This boost comes just days after military sources disclosed plans to send as many as 30,000 troops as part of a 250,000- member force led by the United States to invade Iraq later this year or, at the latest, by February next year.

Brown, who has gained a reputation for prudence, is pinning his hopes this time on higher taxes he announced in March - and almost certainly will rise again - and tighter controls to make sure money isn't squandered like before.

Commentators say that Blair and Brown are obviously setting their sights on the next general election because the budget increases in direct and indirect spending is the largest by a U.K. government since the tax and spend days of the 1970's that left the country in severe financial straits.


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