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Time To Really Tap Into The Team Of Five Million

The Government gets a pass mark for Budget 2020, which outlined significant spending to stimulate the economy, with a huge focus on jobs and training.

This budget needed to be big spending, despite the ballooning debt and the amount of red ink we’ll face for years to come.

Full Budget details can be found here, but in a nutshell the big money went to: creating jobs (for infrastructure, housing, environment and conservation): business and industry sector support; education and training. This is good – wealth means health and jobs provide wealth. And decent work also provides purpose and connection.

It was good to see additional funding for disability support services, for family and violence services, and for community food providers. And the investment in building housing, rent subsidies and for heating and insulation is welcomed.

There were packages for Māori and Pacific communities, but being Pakeha, I’ll leave it to tangata whenua and Pacific peoples to provide comment on these critical areas.

I also await analysis of Budget 2020 from my colleagues in other not for profit peak bodies, including Social Services Providers Aotearoa and New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services. The funding gap report last year found successive Governments significantly underfund not for profits that they contract to deliver social services. So it’ll be important to hear how much this gap has narrowed.

It was heartening to see the $36m set aside for not for profits working with Māori, Pacific, new migrant and former refugee communities.

A large part of yesterday’s Budget was the $50b rescue and recovery fund, with about $20b of that yet to be committed. The uncommitted funds and the lack of detail is good news, given the uncertainty ahead and the need for the Government to take time to get broader perspective into its activity. The Government has needed to bulldoze decisions through in recent weeks, and this decisiveness has been appropriate for the immediate response phase.

The politicians now need to take time to hear from more parts of society in order to avoid wasting money on programmes that won’t be effective for the groups they’re wanting to support. While the public service is well placed to have a good view of community need and opportunities – it’s a partial one.

The nice part is that if the Government does listen it will realise it really is the ‘team of five million’ our Prime Minister encouraged us to be in lockdown. While Government is a major player, also gunning for a prosperous Aotearoa are tangata whenua, Pacific peoples, our new New Zealanders (migrants and former refugees), our incredible youth, not for profits, many businesses, social enterprise, communities and, of course, the philanthropists and grant makers that contribute $3.8b a year. Slow down a bit to tap into the knowledge, resources and connections of your amazing team-mates and, while it’ll feel tough, you’ll maximise progress!

To maximise the contribution of the team, it’d be helpful if Government can find a way to share the valuable data it collects to inform its decision making, using the skills within the public service to produce it in an accessible way. We know it may not be perfect, but if the different parts of society could gather around information that highlights the need and the opportunity, the gaps and overlaps, we could better work out our team positions. This would be great to see at a regional level, as well as nationally for certain groups.

Philanthropy New Zealand and many of its members are currently quite focussed on how to synergise with Government activity, given the changing nature of state support. This is going to go on for the medium term, so it would be helpful if we had data to collaborate around.

Many of Philanthropy New Zealand's members have spoken of their grave concern that the pandemic, combined with the recovery initiatives, will increase inequity. Having community-led programmes and data will help a more equitable and inclusive New Zealand.

My final comment is on the one thing that personally I was looking for in the Government Budget. Too many people are trying to survive on too little. Increasing funding to people receiving benefits would be a powerful economic stimulus as these additional funds would not be banked, but quickly spent on life’s essentials. I acknowledge the Government’s earlier rise in benefit payments and the Winter Energy Payments. But lifting more people out of poverty would have contributed to equity, our recovery, investment in our children, and the Government’s Child Poverty Targets – a win win win win.

One of my favourite quotes, author unknown, is: “To go fast, go alone. To go far, go together”.

The Government now needs to balance the tension of speed with quality decision making, and truly tap into the team of five million.

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