Prime Minister Bill English earmarked $321 million from this month's budget to go into a social investment programme targeting the most vulnerable sectors of society where he says an early and bigger intervention can save taxpayers money in the long-run.

English today announced plans to fund 14 initiatives after the public service pitched evidence-based ideas to the government that met "rigorous investment criteria" delivering long-run benefits to needy people and value for taxpayers. While the details on the initiatives are largely under wraps until Budget day, English said $69m over four years would go on a national rollout of the Family Start programme, which expands behavioural services for young children, and targets pre-school kids with language and literacy difficulties.

Delivering the social policy announcements to a Business New Zealand audience in Wellington, English also updated the government's 10 Better Public Services targets, singling out expectations for improved maths and literacy skills in primary schools, better health outcomes for new mothers and their children, reductions in child abuse and the number of serious crime victims, lower welfare dependence, and faster times to access social housing.

"Today I'm pleased to announce a new group of 10 targets - these are performance targets that apply to the $47 billion we spend each year, a lot of it on New Zealanders with the most challenging lives," English said. "I'm setting my clear expectations for ministers and the public service to deliver even better results beyond those we have achieved."


Better public services is one of four priorities for this year's budget, the first under Finance Minister Steven Joyce, who last week outlined plans to boost infrastructure spending and set a lower net debt target for the medium term.

The final leg of the budget is to provide tax relief for low and middle-income New Zealanders. While Joyce took tax cuts off the table last week, shifts in tax indexation are still on the table, as are other forms of transfers such as tax credits or accommodation supplements.

English told media after the speech that the government is considering a wide range of options to do something about family incomes, but that the final decision will be in the Budget.