Scientists will learn on Budget day – Thursday – how much money the Government will be investing in science over the next year or so. A few days later a documentary film about nuclear physicist Sir Paul Callaghan, titled Dancing with Atoms, will have its world premiere in Wellington on Sunday.
Directed by Shirley Horrocks, the film was funded by the MacDiarmid Institute with the support of most New Zealand universities, including Massey University.
We can only conjecture on how Sir Paul would rate the performance of Callaghan Innovation, which was named to honour him. But a performance review this year found it wanting:
“Callaghan Innovation’s people need to put their passion into the effective execution of a clear plan and they need agile internal systems and processes.”
A report by Rob O/Neill in Reseller News says the Performance Improvement Framework report, completed in January, grades performance across different areas on a four colour scale: red for weak, orange for needing improvement, lime for well-placed, and green for strong. He wrote:
“Callaghan’s latest review is an improvement on one completed in 2015, but it still hasn’t received a green rating across any of the multiple measures employed – it scored 11 orange ratings and seven lime in 2018 compared with three red, 20 orange and two lime in 2015.
“The review says the lack of a plan is already being addressed by Callaghan’s new leadership, with a 12 month strategy roadmap, a three to five year strategy and new 90 day plans which effect the 12 month roadmap and promote clarity, discipline and accountability.
“However, Callaghan is not moving fast enough on system and process improvement. Legacy IT systems must be streamlined, the report says, rather than relying on the ongoing rollout of point solutions.”
Chief executive Vic Crone told Mr O’Neill Callaghan Innovation’s new vision and strategy has now been signed off and implementation will be under way from July.
“I’m confident that will shift a big chunk of our next round orange to green,” she says.
Callaghan Innovation was further embarrassed – or should have been – when the Taxpayers Union disclosed it had spent almost $3 million on travel and entertainment in 2015/16.
Among the entertainment spending was a $50 tip after a dinner at Wellington’s Dockside restaurant.
More than $300,000 was spent on entertainment.
The agency’s future is interwoven with the Government’s proposal to end Callaghan Innovation’s growth grants and introduce a 12.5 per cent research and development tax incentive.
Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods released a discussion document on April 19 which sets out the funding proposal.
For the following six weeks, she said, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Inland Revenue and Callaghan Innovation will be seeking feedback through a variety of channels.
The Government’s aim, the Minister said, is to lift spending on R&D to 2.0 per cent of gross domestic product by 2027.
If the proposal is implemented, the tax credit on eligible expenditure will be available to businesses doing R&D in New Zealand from April 1, 2019. A business would need to spend a minimum of $100,000 on eligible expenditure, within one year, to qualify.
According to the Government’s proposal, businesses with an active growth grant as at March 31, 2019, will continue receiving their grant until March 2020. A temporary grant scheme mirroring the R&D tax incentive will be implemented to provide support for growth grant recipients with insufficient tax liability to use the R&D credit immediately.
But the growth grant scheme will be closed to new applicants on March 31, 2019.
One question raised by this will be answered in the Budget on Thursday: how much more funding over and above allocated under the previous national government will be allocated for Callaghan Innovation and other science agencies?
Another of several written questions put to the Minister by National’s Dr Parmjeet Parma in recent weeks (HERE) asked if the Minister will honour all the projects/contracts funded through Callaghan Innovation?
Dr Woods reply wasn’t an unqualified yes. She said:
I expect that Callaghan Innovation will honour its contracts as long as the terms of the contract are adhered to.
Asked what changes she is planning for Callaghan Innovation and from when, she replied:
“No changes are currently planned to Callaghan Innovation, however future policy decisions may impact on aspects of Callaghan Innovation’s operations. Of course changes to the way the Government incentivises R&D could impact some of the existing administrative functions relating to Callaghan Innovation grants.”
Asked if she had received any advice from officials on any changes to the workings of Callaghan Innovation, the answer – given in writing on March 15 – was bemusing:
“I have not received any advice on material changes to Callaghan Innovation’s operations. Callaghan Innovation is responsible for its day to day operations, and regularly keep me updated on any issues I need to be aware of.”
On a different tack, Dr Parmar asked if the Minister had sought any advice from officials on any changes to the workings of Callaghan Innovation. Dr Woods’ reply was emphatic:
This suggests either that she sought no advice or that she worked furiously between March 15 and April 19 to incorporate advice before releasing the proposals for phasing out the growth grants.
We can only wonder what Sir Paul Callaghan would make of this.
A news item on the Massey website reminds us of his illustrious career.
Sir Paul joined Massey’s staff as a lecturer in 1974 and he was appointed Professor of Physics 10 years later.
Sir Paul was appointed the Alan MacDiarmid Professor of Physical Sciences at Victoria University in 2001, the same year he became the 36th New Zealander to be made a fellow of the Royal Society of London.
He was awarded the Royal Society of New Zealand Hector Medal in 1998, the Ampere Prize in 2004, the Rutherford Medal in 2005, was appointed a Principal Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit following year and, with the restoration of traditional honours, was formally knighted in 2009.
He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science by Massey in 2010.
Callaghan Innovation was named after him when it was established in February 2013 with the Crown Research Institute Industrial Research Limited merged into it. The agency’s task is to make New Zealand business more innovative.
The world premiere of Dancing With Atoms is at 3.30pm, Sunday May 20 at the Embassy Theatre, Wellington. Tickets $25/$15 for children 16 and under and students with ID available from eventbrite.co.nz
All proceeds from the film premiere screening go the Cancer Society of NZ.
Click here for a documentary preview.