Finance Minister talks of shaking up the state-funded science system

Teasing hints of change for the science and technology sector have emerged from the Government since it took office. But no details have been announced – or signalled.

Finance Minister Nicola Willis gave further hints today when she addressed the Auckland Business Chamber on the issue of economic growth.

She talked of a shake-up and of refocussing publicly funded science but she did not elaborate.

Her outline of the government’s plans to rejuvenate an economy which she said has slowed more than was previously thought included mention of an intention to boost the uptake of innovation.

To do this, the government will:

  • shake up the state-funded science system to focus it better on work that will drive commercial value
  • deliver enabling biotech regulation and establish a pro-science biotech regulator; and
  • develop tools to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

Whether portents are provided by the shake-up at Callaghan Innovation is open to conjecture.

But RNZ yesterday reported:

Callaghan Innovation wants to cut staff, focus on money-making projects

One of the country’s top research organisations is proposing to cut staff and focus on science projects that make money.

Government science agency Callaghan Innovation issued a document to staff at a meeting on Friday, outlining its “strategic reset”.

The document – obtained by RNZ – said the organisation needed to “reduce in size” and focus “exclusively on revenue generating, commercial science services”.

Callaghan Innovation was established in 2013 and employs 382 people full-time.

The document contained no details of how many jobs would go or how much money needed to be saved.

But it blamed significant cost pressures for the “reset”.

“There is no additional funding available from the Crown, nor any immediately available cash reserves; Our appropriations do not adequately fund current operations; There are upcoming funding cliffs,” according to the document.

Staff have until 21 March to provide feedback before the proposal goes to the board on 3 April.

An indicative timeline set out in the document showed people could start losing their jobs in June and July.

Public Service Association assistant secretary Fleur Fitzsimons said the proposal was a direct result of the government demanding 7.5 per cent cuts across the public sector and cancelling the Wellington Science City plan that would have invested in new buildings for the organisation.

In a statement, Minister of Science, Innovation and Technology Judith Collins said:

“As Crown companies, Crown Research Institutes (CRIs) have not been directly asked to make any cost savings. CRIs are required under the Crown Research Institute Act 1992 to operate in a financially responsible manner to maintain financial viability.

“CRI board directors make decisions regarding finances and operating models and are accountable to shareholding ministers for acting in a financially responsible manner.

“Responsible management of assets and finances, including careful control of debt, capital expenditure and investments, are part of prudent fiscal management.”

Sources:  Minister of Finance; RNZ



Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog