Infrastructure is Bay's Budget target

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Wayne Walford, CEO, Hawke's Bay Chamber of Commerce, says don't expect any surprises in next week's Budget. Photo/ Duncan Brown

By Roger Moroney

The Budget.

That annual presentation to the New Zealand House of Representatives of how the cash will be spent, by the government at the helm, for the next fiscal year.

Sounds simple, but as Hawke's Bay Chamber of Commerce CEO Wayne Walford, and others whose roles revolve around the landscape of future planning, funding and spending, it is not.

And like anything which requires funding to create improvement, a budget is essential, although it is rarely a procedure which is ever welcomed unanimously by satisfied smiles and nods of agreement.

As the countdown gets under way to next Thursday's reading of what lies ahead across the country's economic highway one word has emerged strongly, and repeatedly.

Infrastructure.

While effectively ruling out tax rates in this year's Budget, Finance Minister Steven Joyce has suggested that he wants it to be defined by "infrastructure spending" which will be accompanied by a further lift in capital expenditure.

"This Government is New Zealand's infrastructure government," Mr Joyce has said.

"Our investment in road, rail, broadband, schools, electricity transmission and hospitals has been unprecedented - and we are increasing it further."

It will be Mr Joyce's first Budget and National's ninth on the trot - the other eight being the domain of then Minister of Finance Bill English ... who has missed by one equalling Dr Michael Cullen's nine-year Budget reign with Labour.

And it is expected to be a Budget which will include in its copious wording a declaration of around a $470 million operating surplus for the year ending June 30 - and of course that "infrastructure" focus which Mr Joyce has already indicated will be something around the $4 billion spending mark.

And should National emerge unscathed from the election on September 23 he has additionally indicated an extra $7 billion for infrastructure across the following three Budgets.

This year's targeted figure for infrastructure is pretty well double that of last year's $2.1 billion spend on that front with schools and classrooms, roading and rail and regional tourism part of that equation.

The books, Mr Joyce and Treasury have declared, aren't looking too bad, with the net debt below what had been expected and there is a governmental determination to halve the net debt as a proportion of the economy by 2025 ... and there are plans for some forms of potential tax relief up Mr Joyce's sleeve.

Hawke's Bay's economy is also in pretty good shape as the Budget once again comes to town.

So cutting to the chase, what do the business, social and community faces of Hawke's Bay need to hear - and at the end of the day, what does the region need?

And are we in for any big surprises?

"No, I don't think so," Mr Walford said.

"No great surprises", although he added that "there are always some better options in election years".

He said Hawke's Bay had been seeing some "amazing growth" in many sectors, and maintaining that was critical.

He echoed the feelings of business lobby groups across the country who had supported the push for increased spending on infrastructure - with a major component of that being business development and growth.

Money, as the saying goes, does indeed make the world go around, especially the business world.

Mr Walford is hopeful there will be money made available for strategies like Regional Business Partner which is a nationwide network of organisations which can help businesses access information, funding, training and development services.

Hawke's Bay is part of that network and has specialist business advisers who are available to meet with businesses and work with business owners to identify needs and opportunities to grow the business.

Educational and research institutes added depth and resilience to business.

And growing a business meant being able to tap into funding.

Business operators working to grow often found themselves "between a rock and a hard place" when it came to moving ahead - as financing those moves was the key.

Funding for training and development was essential, Mr Walford said.

On the more physical side of infrastructure, Mr Walford said Hawke's Bay had been doing okay in terms of new roading developments but the time had come to have the Wairoa link sorted.

With developments like Rocket Lab that part of the region was raising its potential, as was Central Hawke's Bay.

"And we need to look at improving those sorts of links."

He also wanted to see support for Ruataniwha if that moved ahead, as well as port developments as the region had proven itself to be of "considerable" strategic value to New Zealand.

There was also value in creating a situation where there was a strong reason for families and individuals to return to Hawke's Bay.

It was all about making the region accessible and "exciting", Mr Walford said.

He added that while some sectors of the wider community would not see anything in the Budget which could benefit them directly, at the end of the day investment in the wide landscape of infrastructure, from health and education to roading and business development, had benefits for all.

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