New Zealand allocates millions to technology-led economic recovery

The new budget includes support for small business skills and a digital transformation drive across its health sector

The New Zealand government has allocated millions of dollars to various tech initiatives in an attempt to recover from its pandemic-related economic downturn, including a $44 million (£22.4 million) package to support digital skills for small businesses.

Announced as part of its Wellbeing Budget 2021, the government said it wants to “embed the gains” made during the pandemic and expand its existing digital skills programme to provide training for up to 60,000 small businesses, on top of the 20,000 trainees already enrolled.

It will also provide advisory services to assess business needs and bespoke digital business action plans for 30,000 small businesses.

This is in addition to a $170 million package allocated to supporting various digital transformation projects across New Zealand's health sector, expanding its data and digital infrastructure and capability, including Hira, the national health information platform, which is being done to implement health system reforms and improve its performance.

Commenting on the budget, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the programme "looks to continue to create jobs through infrastructure investment, takes on the challenges we are already facing, such as housing, climate change, child wellbeing and inequality, and continues the work that has made our recovery a success so far – such as training and education opportunities that ensure New Zealanders are prepared for employment".

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The government is also investing $10 million to promote the widespread rural deployment of 5G technology in an attempt to relieve network capacity pressures and meet a demand for faster internet speeds.

Linked to this is a $5.7 million investment in a work programme to address Māori interests in 5G radio spectrum that will support a step-change in Māori participation in the digital economy, as well as allow the government to move forward with the commercial allocation of 5G spectrum.

The budget also includes $36 million for the expansion of the Business Connect digital platform which enables integrated services for businesses when dealing with local and central government. It allows businesses to apply for a range of licences, permits, and registrations from different government agencies in one place, reducing compliance time and cost.

The budget announcement comes just a day after a cyber attack against the country's health service brought down its IT system, resulting in some appointments being cancelled. Investigators are still trying to determine the full extent of the damage, including whether patient records have been lost.

One group has already claimed responsibility for the attack, and the health service is coordinating with the country’s National Cyber Security Centre as part of its recovery operation.

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