A competent workforce and economic growth go hand in hand.

As schools go back this week, the National Government is implementing the National Standards in reading, writing, and maths.

One in five children leaves school without reaching the accepted literacy or numeracy standards.  Naturally, this impacts on their ability to work.

$36 million is going towards the children who are struggling and need help with the basic skills. $26 million is being spent to help teachers and principals implement the new standards.

The latter funding remains part of Professional Development funding for teachers, but focused on National Standards.  This is what teachers asked for and we are delivering it.

There is a clear need to be able to identify those who fall into the 1 in 5 category.  In a first world country, it is unacceptable to have school leavers lacking basic proficiencies.

The drive for improved education and better skills is one of National’s six key drivers of growth.  The others – investment in productive infrastructure; removing red tape and improving regulation; supporting business innovation and trade; lifting productivity and improving services in the public sector; and strengthening the tax system – are also subject to implementation in varying stages at the moment.

Tax is currently under the Government’s spotlight.  Equity and fairness for households and the economy will guide our consideration of options in this year’s Budget. In considering any significant changes to the tax system National believes the benefits must be clear and evident for all.

National believes tax policy can play a role in increasing growth and productivity. We want to ensure our tax system rewards people for hard work, encourages them to save, and helps Kiwi families to get ahead.

There is a lot on the agenda for 2010.  As we tentatively step out of recession, still hoping the global economy doesn’t catch another cold, we need to be putting these basic stepping stones in place.

Despite the negative reaction by some interest groups around national standards in education, it is vitally important we ensure everyone has a chance to achieve to the best of their ability.

Likewise with tax policy, equity and fairness will guide consideration.  We are rebuilding the economy to get New Zealand back into fighting shape for the rest of the century and to enhance our collective standard of living.  That’s not something that can happen overnight, but with the right vision and a national ‘buy-in’, we can all contribute.