In her first post-Budget speech to business Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern focused on initiatives to boost productivity, including the R&D tax credit, the Future of Work Forum and skills and training initiatives.

But opposition leader Simon Bridges says there was nothing tangible in the Budget to lift flagging business confidence.

Ardern acknowledged that business confidence remained subdued.

"Business confidence is a measure of perception, and that is incredibly important, but actually businesses' confidence in their own activity is the one that tends to demonstrate whether or not we've got a positive economic outlook or not," she said.

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By that measure and the actual economic data "all of the markers were looking good", she said.

As well as reiterating the solid fiscal picture – growing surpluses and falling debt ratios – she highlighted Government plans to boost productivity.

Top of the list was the initiative to "lift the research and development investment by 50 per cent – to 2 per cent of GDP inside 10 years", she said.

Nationally the level was currently 1.3 per cent.

The Budget delivered $1 billion in operating expenditure over four years to finance a tax incentive for more research and development.

This would give eligible businesses 12.5c back for every dollar spent on R&D, Ardern said.

The incentive will be available to all businesses spending more than $100,000 a year on research and development.

She also emphasised the planned Future of Work Commission. A tripartite forum that will bring together unions, employers and government to try to improve the use of technology, create more productive workplaces and improve skills and training.

On skills and training she reminded business leaders that the fully-funded first year of tertiary education was designed to benefit older workers as much as school leavers.

"[It] will allow all those in the workforce who have not studied or trained before to learn new skills."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledged that business confidence remains subdued. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledged that business confidence remains subdued. Photo / Mark Mitchell

She also offered some reassurance around immigration and labour shortages.

"This Government wants to make sure business has the workers you need, in the places you most need them," she said.

"That's why we're working on developing lists of regional skills and labour shortages. We want the immigration system to be in better balance and to better match migrant skills to the regions and industries where they are needed most."

National leader Simon Bridges agreed business confidence was a perception issue and said he understood employment law was a traditional area of conflict with Labour.

"I think that washes for a couple of months," he said. "But seven or eight months on you do have to look at the substance of what is happening here."

Business wanted to see some sort of plan that showed there was a pathway to growth, he said.

"There's just nothing there that business could gain confidence, or even comfort, from."

The business initiatives the Government was emphasising were "very intangible", he said.

"It's hard for a dairy or a butcher to grab a hold of a future of work forum or a tripartite whatever it's called."

Asked to characterise this Budget, Ardern said it was defined to some extent by the need to catch up on spending in many areas: "…by what hadn't been done for a while".

She said there was a clear plan "to tackle the many challenges we face and take advantage of the opportunities ahead of us with fresh and innovative thinking".

"We are taking positive steps forward, delivering not just for the next three years, but for the next 30. Budget 2018 is about building the foundations to make that vision a reality."