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Budget wins and losses: Industry players react to the world's first Wellbeing Budget

After an eventful week, the government finally debuted what The New York Times has called 'New Zealand's next liberal milestone': the 2019 Wellbeing Budget, the first of its kind where spending is guided by what best encourages the wellbeing of the country's citizens, rather than just economic prosperity. We reached out to a range of industry players and asked them what the most important issue the budget tackled was, as well as where there was room for improvement. Here's what The Icehouse's Andy Hamilton, The Ground Breaking Podcast's Eli Smit, Swaytech's Bob Pinchin, education futurist Claire Amos, The Workshop's Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw and more had to say.

Bob Pinchin, managing director of Swaytech and organiser of the NZ Hi-Tech Awards



What’s the most important issue the budget has tackled and why?

Mental health investment. This is so overdue! The current system is so stretched and and disjointed that all too often people are slipping through the net or getting bounced around different, poorly funded services that seem incapable of jointly working together through lack of the right systems and resources. I have firsthand experience of this as I have a teenage daughter who suffers from VERY bad depression. The problem starts within the schools, where they have inadequate skills and resources to identify students who are hurtling headfirst in to a state of depression and the usual approach is 'toughen up', as you will have to deal with bigger issues when you grow up. No mention in the budget (that I could see) about helping schools just a generic comment around "first line of support".

Opportunity for start-ups to get financial help. This has got to be a good thing (as it is in other countries) as long as there are clear business parameters around who can get access to the money, i.e. a form of due diligence is run over the company (as would happen with a normal injection of money) to ensure that the start-up is solving real problems and there is an opportunity to scale – that result being hiring more people in New Zealand, which is for the greater good and is wealth creating.

What’s an area that needs improvement, or is missing from the budget?

Infrastructure needs. We continue to build houses at a rate of knots, yet the transport aspect of how these people who move into these new homes are going to get anywhere are an afterthought. I live near Botany – 25,000 new homes have been built in the last 20 years and yet no tangible improvement in transport and roading infrastructure. It's arse backwards. The roading and transport needs should be put in place and future proofed. When money is spent it's wasted on white elephants like the underground link from the bottom of town up to K Rd. What a waste of money, people could walk it in 20 minutes. The money should be spent on cutting commute times down to get into the city in the first place – I could ramble on, but cease at this point.

Eli Smit, host of The Ground Breaking Podcast

What’s the most important issue the budget has tackled and why?

It is great to see the big focus on young people and mental health in the budget. The money set aside will accelerate work that is urgently needed. The key will be making sure the money is used well. Adults are good at saying one thing but not following through.

What’s an area that needs improvement, or is missing from the budget?

Two things:

1. My mum is a teacher, I’d love to see support and pay issues sorted out. I don’t mind time off school, but I know teachers work hard.

2. People matter, communities matter and I don’t think there is room for self-interest. This fight thing with National is stuff I see on the playground at school. These politicians need to focus on working together to help New Zealanders.

Claire Amos, Albany Senior High School principal and education futurist

What’s the most important issue the budget has tackled and why?

The focus on suicide prevention is so so important and the policies that wrap around this. There’s no question that the wellbeing of our young people must be a priority. They are our future, and we must invest in them if we want our young people, our communities and country to thrive. 

What’s an area that needs improvement, or is missing from the budget?

Education. Whilst I acknowledge there was a good total investment, it was where there wasn’t enough investment – our teachers! Even if this was a purely a question of a good investment and was only about being seen to be fiscally responsible, then you would be crazy not to spend your money on our teachers. Teachers are the ones who help develop student wellbeing and in turn community wellbeing. As Mitt Romney once stated, "Education is the investment our generation makes in the future". By investing in the teacher, you invest in our children and you invest in our country's future. To under invest in teachers is to rob us all.

Andrew Hamilton, CEO of The Icehouse

What’s the most important issue the budget has tackled and why?

Giving a clear signal that it is not acceptable for us as a country to ignore big social inequity and unfairness. It is also fantastic to see the focus on backing our best and brightest start-ups with funding from a new VC Fund of Funds that will back start-ups with more significant investment funding to enable their global expansion.

What’s an area that needs improvement, or is missing from the budget?

My reflection is that the budget tackles some major societal issues which is really good and much needed, but has failed to address a lack of funding for teachers and nurses. A wellbeing budget should give more consideration to these professions. Budgets are about making funding choices, and the government chose not to pay them more. I don’t think this was the right choice.

I would also like to see the impact of government funding into the community independently assessed via a responsibility and accounting function. So we can clearly see what return and impact is made from these investments. We need more accountability for use of funding, independent from Government.

Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw, co-director at The Workshop

What’s the most important issue the budget has tackled and why?

 More funding for Whānau Ora – the ultimate wellbeing policy. The Living Standards at Treasury, where wellbeing concepts came from originally, are based in part on Amartya Sen's work, and as he puts it wellbeing means 'the ability to achieve the kind of lives we have reason to value' . Whanau ora, as I see it, is exactly about helping people to achieve that.

What’s an area that needs improvement, or is missing from the budget?

I would have liked to see investment in building the public service's ability to engage on a more meaningful level with communities across New Zealand to determine what wellbeing means for them, and ways to share decision making on policies that will achieve it.

Mike Hutcheson, innovation and creativity professor at AUT and co-founder of Colenso BBDO

What’s the most important issue the budget has tackled and why?

Firstly, I like the notion of a budget that goes beyond economics. You can’t run a country like a business. Donald Trump is demonstrating the danger of that daily. Secondly, I think the focus on mental health is a huge step in the right direction. Governments must address the psychology of the nation as well as the physiology and anatomy. 

What’s an area that needs improvement, or is missing from the budget?

The bit that’s missing for me is an introduction of a creative thinking platform. As Bernard Hickey says, we won’t grow our nation's wealth be selling over priced house to each other. Let’s get the accountant to step aside and let the innovators through!

Adriana Christie, co-owner of the Pallet Kingdom and member of the Waitematā Local Board 

What’s the most important issue the budget has tackled and why?

I found these issues the most important:
– Mental Health package
– New schools and classrooms
– Start-up funding for business
– Homelessness funding
– Climate change and environment funding
– Children in state care
– Rail boost. All of these topics enhance our livelihoods and allow us citizens reach our ups most potential through strengthening our social, environmental and economical pillars of society.

What’s an area that needs improvement, or is missing from the budget?

I am curious to see what will happen when scenarios overlap, also I would like to understand the process behind tackling these issues. I feel we still need more improvement in tackling out homelessness, yes I understand 1044 more place ill open with the 197m for Housing First, but I would like to see more effort in prevention especially when youth homelessness is increasing. In terms of missing, I believe that both nurses and teachers are not very highlighted in this budget but there is topics that will indirectly benefit them. This Budget is an excellent step in the right direction all it can do is keep on improving. I am excited to see it in action.

Jonnie Haddon, programme director of Lightning Lab Govtech 

What's your favourite aspect or issue the budget tackled and why?
 

The planning for this wellness budget took a collaborative approach with a genuine desire to move the needle, much like that of a start-up. There was a clear focus on wanting the public sector to  work differently, breaking down silos and test new approaches or technologies, which is exactly what the government needs. I love that they are making bold, powerful claims. The same of start-ups and governments is true: we can only achieve a drastically different result if we act drastically different.


What's an area that needs improvement?

There’s always a risk with any massive funding injection that money can be thrown at an issue and not used as efficiently and effectively as possible. A drive to spend quickly can result in misspending. Something we promote and foster at LLGovTech is experimentation and testing of solutions to ensure we have proof that the given spending will lead to a successful outcome. I hope that the government takes on a similar philosophy.

Erik Zydervelt, CEO of Mevo

What’s the most important issue the budget has tackled and why?

I am absolutely delighted to see the government recognising the massive gap we have in early stage venture funding in NZ. Some of the best and brightest in our country are bravely starting new companies tackling new problems that the old hand cannot solve. A $300m addition to the Venture Capital funding market is a step in the right direction and means a few more founders and their teams can get on with building the future we need and with the cash to do so.  Further growth of this fund will also be imperative for keeping our innovators here in New Zealand, contributing to our economy.

What’s an area that needs improvement?

Transport impacts every single person’s wellbeing in NZ and is responsible for ~20 percent of our national emissions. While I celebrate investment in rail, shared and micro mobility are going to be the key factors in bringing the government’s carbon zero goals from idea into reality. Underinvestment in this area is a lost opportunity which will cost lives (cycle ways) and emissions.

Alex Gyani, head of research at ANZ Behavioural Insights Team – New Zealand 



What’s the most important issue the budget has tackled and why?

The level of ambition shown by the government’s funding of mental health services will make New Zealand a world leader in this space. The mental health of the nation is of fundamental importance and it is wonderful to see this recognised in the budget. Decades of research has shown that people with better mental health are likely to have better physical health and are likely to be more engaged in the labour market, leading to a better economy.

What's an area that needs improvement?

A budget is obviously about how much money is spent, but not how it will work in practice. Lots of governments around the world have promised big buckets of money that have not lived up to their potential. Although funding for mental health services is a good start, we still need to think about ways in which we can engage the community in using these services. For example, New Zealanders that receive help for generalised anxiety disorder will wait about a decade after their first symptoms before looking for help. This means that people who are suffering are losing a decade of their lives to a disease that could be treated. Not only that, people will often drop out of waiting lists, because the process of seeking help is daunting. The funding for these services will help, but careful thought will be required to ensure that communities and whanau get the most out of them. In other countries, we have found that small tweaks can encourage people to complete their treatment. We believe that these ideas have the potential to really benefit the people of New Zealand, and it is exciting to see this government use this budget to build a platform to test them out.

Guy Ryan, CEO of Inspiring Stories 

What’s the most important issue the budget has tackled and why?​

The budget charts a path to addressing some of the major social and environmental issues that our country faces. It recognises that New Zealand’s young people have the greatest stake in the future, yet are amongst our most challenged and disadvantaged in society. The increased investment into mental health and wellbeing, vocational training and pathways, productivity and regional development are vital for our long-term prosperity.

What's an area that needs improvement?

Action and investment in climate change is the single biggest thing that needs improvement in the Wellbeing Budget. It’s great to see allocations for the Zero Carbon Act, the One Billion Trees programme, rail, and a new climate change research and energy centre, but the scale of investment doesn’t stack up to the size of the challenge, nor the urgency with which we need to respond.

We’re already experiencing the impact of more frequent and extreme weather events – droughts, fires, floods, cyclones, erosion – the implications on agriculture, infrastructure, livelihoods, migration and indeed wellbeing – are set to be profound. It is crazy that in 2019, we have local authorities stating they need more evidence in order to take (any) action on climate change. The Government has to take greater leadership on this issue, backed up with greater investment and support, and a joined up cross-agency and cross-sectoral approach to solutions.

John Mauro, chief sustainability officer of Auckland Council

 

As the world’s first Wellbeing Budget, it’s an important first step. The integrated economic, environmental, cultural and social benefits are a breakthrough.  It specifically talks about future generations, with a focus on people, place and planet. 

With the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill out for consultation at the moment, I’d love to see New Zealand lead the world with a bold response to the climate crisis.  Undoubtedly it will bring long-term benefits to our health, natural environment and economy.

It’s good to see clear connections in the Wellbeing Budget to climate change.  A major spending focus on rail and public transport is welcome.  Investment in Auckland City Rail Link and KiwiRail is vital to help reduce New Zealand’s transport emissions, relieve congestion, connect our communities and improve air quality in our cities. The budget also allocates funding for things like emissions reduction technology development and sustainable land use. 

 Overall, the budget rightly acknowledges that “fundamental change will take time” and the budget “marks the start of this process.” 

 

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