Simeon Brown lays into Government as Waka Kotahi gets warning from Transport Minister Michael Wood

Grant Robertson's delivered his annual pre-Budget speech in Wellington on Thursday, reiterating climate and health will be the biggest winners.

But we're still yet to find out if there'll be anything to ease our cost of living crisis, and meanwhile, one government agency has been pouring money into consultants with little to show for it.

The Finance Minister wasn't tucking into his pre-Budget breakfast ahead of his yearly pitch to Wellington's biggest in business.

He reconfirmed Budget 2022's about health and the climate, but left plenty unanswered on the cost of living crisis.

"If we decided against reforming our health system, we wouldn't see lower petrol prices," he told attendees. 

But Kiwi wallets also need an investment. Annual food prices out on Thursday revealed groceries officially cost us 6.4 percent more than this time last year. 

Nicola Willis, the National Party's finance spokesperson, said the Government's "first priority must be giving relief to the squeezed middle" at next week's Budget.

While Robertson believes "we do have a very carefully balanced spending programme", the National Party begs to differ, questioning Waka Kotahi's spending on the NZ Upgrade Programme - the Government's 10-year plan to give the country's infrastructure a facelift.

Since 2019, the transport agency's spent $145 million on consultants, covering things like the environment and planning, versus just $200 million on actual construction.

"This Government's addicted to spending," said National's transport spokesperson Simeon Brown. "What New Zealanders want is better infrastructure and better roads, not millions and millions getting put to consultants for projects which should've already been delivered."

But Transport Minister Michael Wood said the money's gone toward "detailed design, planning and consenting". 

"There's frankly a cheap political shot here that either demonstrates total naivety about how transport projects work or is simply knowingly making these claims when actually we know that that's how transport projects have to be structured." 

But the Waka Kotahi spend up doesn't end there. Since 2017, it's more than doubled its PR team from 32 staff to 88 - 65 of whom are earning $100,000 or more.

"I've sent Waka Kotahi a reminder recently that they need to be careful and considered with their expenditure," Wood said. 

A stern warning to the ministry from the minister: watch your spending.