Let’s lock in the gains we made in recent weeks

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Everywhere I go in Dunedin I see handmade signs.

Leaning up against lamp posts thanking essential workers; in the window across the road from my Dunedin office, thanking Jacinda.

It tells me people are relieved, they are hopeful. But they know we can’t take anything for granted.

I visited my local cafe yesterday, for the first time in eight weeks. Bill told me that without the wage subsidy they would have had to close.

More than anything now, we must support our local businesses to help them recover.

New Zealanders work best when we work together, and over the last few months, that’s exactly what we’ve seen right across the country.

Now it’s time for us to rebuild and recover together.

The global economic shock of Covid-19 presents challenges not seen in New Zealand since the Great Depression, but there is a clear path through.

To get our economy moving, we know our focus needs to be on jobs.

From the beginning, our economic response has prioritised protecting jobs and keeping businesses afloat.

The next steps in our plan are contained in Budget 2020: Rebuilding Together.

The centrepiece is our $50billion Covid Rebuild and Recovery Fund, to create jobs, get business moving and support New Zealanders.

The fund includes a targeted extension to the wage subsidy to keep the most affected Kiwis in work.

Here in Otago this is especially welcome in the tourism, hospitality and export education sectors.

This week I helped organise a webinar hosted by the Otago Chamber of Commerce and local businesses with the Minister for Small Business, Stuart Nash.

It’s vital that we are listening closely to the pressures business is facing and respond quickly to provide the essential support to keep things ticking along until they’ve weathered the immediate shock.

The Budget also includes initiatives to create new jobs, train people to have the skills they need for the jobs we have, and support people to get into work.

This means we’re investing in major new infrastructure, and also in projects like boosting the apprenticeships scheme to enable people to upskill and retrain, and partnering with industry to fill skills gaps in the workforce.

And we’re creating thousands of new jobs that help to protect our environment, including our jobs for nature programme.

Budget 2020 is also about taking this chance to address New Zealand’s long-term challenges.

We are rebuilding our economy better.

We are building 8000 public houses, which will help the construction sector, while providing warm, dry homes for thousands of families.

We’re expanding the lunches in schools programme to ensure up to 200,000 children can learn on a full stomach, to lighten the load on families, and help create jobs.

Dunedin and Otago schools are next in line for the lunches in schools.

I’m also especially proud of this week’s announcement of $278.2 million to restore the 100% funding band for teacher-led early childhood centre services.

There are a lot of very happy ECE teachers in our city this week, and it will benefit our children.

I’m also relieved to see the $16million funding to boost Adult and Community Education (ACE), which will give more than 11,000 New Zealanders more opportunities to learn.

We’re giving more support to our hospitals and clinics to keep delivering the world-class healthcare we’ve come to value more than ever.

Now’s the time to create a New Zealand we’re truly proud of. Now’s the time to stay safe, lock in the gains we made in recent weeks, and recover as a nation.

Now’s the time to build back better. Now’s the time to rebuild together.