Budget 2021: Judith Collins rips into Deputy PM Grant Robertson's new spending oversight 'implementation unit'

National leader Judith Collins has described a new 'implementation unit' to oversee spending as "a vote of no confidence by Grant Robertson in his Cabinet colleagues". 

In his pre-Budget speech on Tuesday, Robertson said his boss Jacinda Ardern instructed him to set up the new unit within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to ensure money is being spent in the right places. 

As well as keeping Kiwis safe from COVID-19, the Government is focused this term on accelerating the economic recovery and addressing "big three long-term challenges": housing affordability, climate change and child wellbeing. 

"The Prime Minister has tasked me as Deputy Prime Minister to lead a new implementation unit based in her department to ensure we are tackling these core priorities," Robertson said in his speech at Te Papa in Wellington. 

"The Unit will be funded through Budget 2021 and will monitor and support implementation of a small number of critical initiatives, particularly where multiple agencies are involved in the work.

"At a time where the Government is playing a much greater role in supporting the economy and investing for the future, it is crucial that we ensure that we are getting value for money from every dollar of spending, and that across the public service initiatives are being delivered in a way that supports our economic recovery."

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Grant Robertson.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Grant Robertson. Photo credit: Newshub

Collins said on Tuesday she thought Cabinet oversaw spending. 

"I thought it was a vote of no confidence by Grant Robertson in his Cabinet colleagues. Mind you, he's probably right - they couldn't actually deliver Uber Eats, could they?" she told reporters. 

"We would have thought that was a Cabinet job that Cabinet should be in charge of implementing the promises and the decisions of Cabinet... not some group that's had to be brought in.

"I think if ministers can't implement what their job is and their promises, then they shouldn't be ministers."

ACT leader David Seymour was equally critical of the new unit, saying it shows Ardern is "admitting that she doesn't have confidence in her ministers to do their jobs". 

"When you don't have any answers you set up new organisations. Now we have the Government setting up a new department to implement things other departments failed at," Seymour said.  

"It's clear the Government has failed to deliver almost everything it's announced, at least now they can see what everyone else can." 

National leader Judith Collins.
National leader Judith Collins. Photo credit: Newshub

Robertson said the implementation unit is necessary due the significant amount of money being spent by the Government on infrastructure and the likes. 

The Government announced a $3.8 billion housing infrastructure fund earlier this year, which adds to the billions of dollars already put towards other infrastructure initiatives, such as $3 billion for shovel-ready projects. 

"A part of this was the COVID spending, because it was such a large amount of money, we recognised as we started to do some of this work last term, with a very large amount of money going in, we needed to be tracking it even more closely," Robertson said. 

"I think this is best practice. I think this is recognition of the fact that we're taking on big issues that require a number of different players to be involved, and so I think it's actually a good and positive thing to do."

Robertson said funding for the unit will be announced in Budget 2021, which is to be unveiled on May 20. He described the funding as "small", covering a group of about five employees. 

Ardern pushed back on the idea that the new implementation unit suggests a lack of confidence in her Cabinet. 

"We have had in the past year alone, particularly in response to our COVID recovery, significant investment, including in infrastructure, in the tens of billions," she told reporters. 

"This outstrips the scale of any former government's investment in infrastructure because we're looking to create jobs in particular. 

"And so we wanted to make sure that given the complexity of some of those projects, that we did have extra support available through the form of that implementation unit."

Robertson has already saved almost a billion dollars in the upcoming Budget by asking each minister to look again at the areas of COVID-19 spending for which they were responsible to see if costs could be reduced. 

It resulted in $926 million worth of savings.