Megan Woods’ signals next steps on the R&D tax incentive

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods has released another update on the Research and Development Tax Incentive.

She said feedback on how to make the R&D Tax Incentive work better had been “incredibly valuable” and she is confident of introducing a scheme that will help more New Zealand firms increase their R&D.

What we did

We made a number of changes after listening to your feedback, such as lifting the credit rate to 15 percent, and lowering the minimum expenditure threshold to $50,000. We also amended the definition of R&D so that eligibility could be accessed more easily across all sectors.

All the policy details, including submissions and official papers, are available on MBIE’s website.

On the Growth Grant front, we have extended contracts until 31 March 2021. If you are a current Growth Grant holder, Callaghan Innovation will continue to support your transition to the tax incentive over this time.

Next steps

Legislation to enact the R&D Tax Incentive is now going through Parliament.

I encourage you to get involved in the select committee process so we can really hone in on the technical details. You can read the Bill in its current form and make a submission to the Finance and Expenditure Committee on Parliament’s website. You can also read a commentary of the Bill, which clarifies some of the more technical aspects of the Tax Incentive, on Inland Revenue’s website.

We are also beginning ‘phase two’ of the consultation process, where we’ll address issues such as refundability, and refine, extend and simplify the reach and usability of the Tax Incentive.

We want to ensure we engage widely with the right people, so if you would like to be involved I encourage you to make contact with the teams at MBIE and Inland Revenue.

Summing up

It’s important to remember that the R&D tax incentive will be one form of support amongst many for supporting business innovation.

Dr Woods said one of her priorities as Minister for Research, Science and Innovation is to have a full package of support for New Zealand’s Innovation system, including more support for start-ups in the near future.

Source:  Minister of Research, Science and Innovation

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Kauri dieback and myrtle rust research to be accelerated

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods has announced a funding increase of $13.75 million over three years from the Strategic Science Investment Fund (SSIF) for research to combat the spread of kauri dieback and myrtle rust.

The Biological Heritage National Science Challenge is developing the platform plan for the SSIF.

Kauri dieback is threatening the country’s kauri with extinction and myrtle rust is threatening many iconic native species.

The new investment will be used to focus and accelerate the work already being done by Government agencies, councils, research providers, Māori and interest groups. A high-level strategy is being developed by the BioHeritage Challenge.

The strategy will align with BioHeritage’s three big goals – empower, protect, restore – and the research priorities already identified by the kauri dieback and myrtle rust Strategic Science Advisory Groups (SSAGs).

BioHeritage leader Dr Nick Waipara, of Plant & Food Research, says a core group of people with diverse expertise is being brought together to develop the strategy and subsequent workplan.

“While details are still being confirmed, it’s our intention to work closely with all key players as the strategy is developed. There has already been a lot of careful thinking about research needs in these areas and it’s our intention to build on this – not start from scratch.”

Dr Waipara  says kauri dieback and myrtle rust are critical threats to New Zealand’s environment and the team is acutely aware of how urgently something needs to be done to stop the diseases spreading.

“Connecting experts from diverse institutions is what National Science Challenges are all about – we independently focus collective thinking on nationally significant problems such as kauri dieback and myrtle rust,” he said.

“An integral part of this is to work closely in partnership with Māori.

“While we’re realistic about what can be achieved in three years, we feel confident that our collective approach will help make a big difference for Aotearoa.”

Source: Biological Heritage National Science Challenge

Scientists raise questions about secret review of $1.6bn funding programme

New Zealand Herald science reporter Jamie Morton has reported the questioning of the Government’s refusal to release a review of a major science initiative that just received hundreds of millions more dollars of public funding.

The National Science Challenges, a set of 11 collaborative efforts, bring together thousands of researchers across different institutions and aim to tackle the biggest issues facing New Zealand.

Launched four years ago after each was finalised by a Government-commissioned peak panel, they range from work around freshwater and natural hazards to healthy ageing and nutrition, the challenges.

Funding – projected to reach a total investment of $1.6 billion – was allocated for 10 years in five-year periods, so that performance and future direction could be reviewed.

Last week the Government’s announcement of its approval of $422.5 million, bringing investment so far to $680 million, followed a mid-way performance review by the Government’s Science Board.

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods said the review had shown the challenges were “fundamentally changing the way science is being undertaken in New Zealand”.

The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) provided the Herald with a summary of the review, which stated the challenges were delivering collaborative programmes, supporting “excellent science” and had “appropriate governance and decision-making processes”.

But Jamie Morton reported the ministry had withheld the full review, prompting it to request the report under the Official Information Act.

The ministry’s strategic investments manager Danette Olsen was reported as saying the ministry did not release assessment or peer-review reports that supported investment decisions made by the Science Board.

“This empowers reviewers and experts to provide their free and frank advice, and also protects potentially sensitive information and intellectual property.”

The New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) was “extremely concerned” by the ministry’s secrecy.

“This is public funding used for the national good,” president Dr Heide Friedrich said.

“The NZAS would welcome for review information to be made public, and thus contributing to a healthy discussion on research funding mechanisms.”

Science commentator and past NZAS president Professor Shaun Hendy was also critical of the process.

“Normally, scientific reviews of research programmes like these would be kept confidential, but the public were important stakeholders in the challenges and even played a role in selecting them,” he said.

“I think the lack of transparency in the selection of the challenges by the peak panel, particularly where this deviated from the popular voting, demands a higher level of public scrutiny than we might ordinarily ask for.”

Hendy said there had been some wins from the challenges – more than 150 projects were under way, delivering more than 400 publications since 2014 .  But they had also put an “extraordinary level of stress” on the science system.

“There has been a lot of discussion about the resource that is going into their governance for instance,” he said.

“Furthermore it would be very helpful of we had some public data on who is being funded and for what.

“Right now, it’s very hard to tell whether the challenges are engaging with emerging researchers or whether, as some of the criticisms have suggested, the funding is going to an old boys’ network.”

Another prominent scientist, MacDiarmid Institute co-director Associate Professor Nicola Gaston, said one of the biggest concerns around the challenges and their funding was an original indication they would provide a “de facto science strategy” for the country.

The development of the Government’s National Statement of Science Investment had gone some way to removing concerns around funding, because it had made clearer the relationships between different parts of the sector.

“However the balance between complexity and efficiency of our research system is a delicate one that does need monitoring — for now I would say that the stability provided by this continued funding is absolutely what the sector needs.”

Professor Hendy still wanted to see a tough audit of the way the challenges were selected, procured and contracted, “so we can figure out how this might be done better in the future”.

The 11 challenges are “A Better Start”, “Ageing Well”, “Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities”, “Healthier Lives”, “High-Value Nutrition”, “New Zealand’s Biological Heritage”, “Our Land And Water”, “Resilience To Nature’s Challenges”, “Science for Technological Innovation”, “Sustainable Seas” and “The Deep South”.

The biggest amounts in the second round of funding went to Science for Technological Innovation, Our Land and Water and High-Value Nutrition ($72.7 million, $69.3 million and $53.2 million respectively).

MBIE planned to release summaries of reviews of each of the challenges this week.

Source:  New Zealand Herald

National Science Challenges receive $422.5m vital research funding

The decision to release $422.5 million in research funding for New Zealand’s 11 National Science Challenges, which are working to address some of our biggest challenges like climate change, housing and mental health, has been welcomed by Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods.

The Science Board, which is responsible for investing Government funds in research, science and technology, approved the second tranche of funding bringing the total investment to $680.8m following a positive mid-way review.

Funding for the National Science Challenges was allocated for ten years in two five-year periods, so that the performance and future direction could be reviewed, Dr Woods said.

The review has shown that the Challenges are fundamentally changing the way science is being undertaken in New Zealand.

The Minister said:

“This approach brings our top scientists and researchers together to work collaboratively across disciplines and alongside Māori to develop science – something that is truly world-leading.

“While the Challenges are at different stages of development, each is delivering excellent, collaborative research programmes that will have enduring benefits for New Zealand.”

More than 150 projects are now under way across the 11 Challenges, already delivering over 400 publications since 2014.

This research has the potential for tangible impacts in a number of wider Government priority areas such as biosecurity, child well-being, mental health, resilience to hazards, climate change, sustainable land-use, and housing and urban development, Dr Woods said.

To read more about the National Science Challenges, visit the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s website.

Source:  Minister of Research, Science and Innovation

Funding is won for research into bumblebee learning

A Plant & Food Research project which is researching the learning capability of bumblebees is among the 136 projects granted funding by the Marsden Fund in the latest round.

Most animals are capable of learning, but being a “good learner” is not always beneficial as learning involves energy investment.

In “The effect of environmental complexity on learning capacity in wild bumblebee populations” project, pollination scientist Dr Lisa Evans and her New Zealand and international collaborators will compare the learning capability of wild bumblebees occupying different kinds of floral environments, to determine whether learning potential provides a selective advantage to bumblebee colonies in some environments but not others.

The outcome will further our understanding of why we observe variation in learning potential within species and whether this can affect the ability of bees to successfully reproduce. This project has received a $300,000 fast-start grant designated for early career researchers.

The Marsden Fund, managed by the Royal Society Te Apārangi on behalf of the New Zealand government, supports New Zealand’s best investigator-initiated research in the areas of science, engineering, maths, social sciences and the humanities.

Source:  Plant & Food Research

Food and fibre fund open for agribusiness

The value of New Zealand’s food and fibre sectors is set to grow as a primary sector investment fund opens for business, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said at the Ashburton A&P show today.

Proposals for the $40 million a year Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures fund must demonstrate they will deliver benefits beyond the applicants to wider New Zealand, such as creating new high-value jobs in rural communities, he said.

“SFF Futures provides a single gateway for farmers, growers and organisations to seek investment in projects that help our economic engine move from volume to value.

“The projects will grow important industries, deliver environmental and sustainability benefits, foster collaboration, build capability, create new products, services and jobs, and importantly retain the benefits in New Zealand.

“This fits in with the work of the Primary Sector Council, which is taking a good look into the future of our primary sectors to help direct a strategic path forward for each sector.”

Together SFF Futures and the Primary Sector Council will help farmers and growers run their operations sustainably and profitably, driving a strong economy that helps raise the living standards of all New Zealanders, Mr O’Connor said.

Applications for funding can be made at www.mpi.govt.nz/funding.

Source:  Minister of Agriculture 

19 Endeavour Fund projects directly relate to agriculture and food production  

As an organisation that consistently calls for science and ground-truthed research to underpin policy and regulations, Federated Farmers says it has no problem with the government investing $249 million in the 2018 round of the Endeavour Fund.

“It’s a lot of money but it should be viewed as an investment in our future,” Feds science and innovation spokesperson Andrew Hoggard says.

“The nation has some big challenges ahead, including improving resilience to climate change, protecting biodiversity and maintaining economic performance.”

The Endeavour Fund is New Zealand’s largest research and science contestable fund and the 69 multi-year projects approved should deliver real gains in knowledge and future opportunities, Hoggard says.

He notes that at least 19 of the projects directly relate to agriculture and food production.

In particular, Federated Farmers is pleased to see an $11.4m NIWA project to advance the carbon inventory locked up in forest, grassland and urban environments, and $7.7m to a Lincoln Agritech-led team which will seek better understanding of the pathways by which nitrogen travels from land to waterways. This is a project which the Feds have identified as a priority.

Massey University will get $11.2m for its project Milks Mean More: Unlocking the potential of New Zealand’s ruminant milks, and NIWA will use $8m to explore new technologies to double the effectiveness of on-farm diffuse pollution mitigation.

New Zealand farmers pride themselves on being world leaders in both production and sustainability, Hoggard says.

They need the best science and research data available to step up our game even more.

Source:  Federated Farmers