Budget 2011: The science sector responds

UPDATED: Bill English unveiled the Budget for 2011-12 this afternoon with no new funding for science, but a reprioritisation of funding in some areas.

Overall, core science and innovation remains relatively flat at $773.7 million (down $13.9 million year on year) for the next financial year.

A spokesperson for science and innovation minister Dr Wayne Mapp said: (read a detailed breakdown of the 2011-12 funding announcements from the MSI here).

“Last year there was a one-off $16 million capital injection to REANNZ (Research and Education Advanced Network New Zealand). That is not repeated in 2011/12. There is also a reduction in MSI capital expenditure, from $4 million to $2.1 million.

“Taking those capital injections out accounts for more than the variation. This is why there is, effectively, a $5 million increase on the amount of money spent on the operational outputs e g the science.

“REANNZ is not a loser, as the capital injection was in effect building the capacity and equity of the company (which is a Crown-owned entity).”

Reprioritized funding has focused on two new areas:

– $24 million over four years for business R&D and commercialisation.

– $12 million over four years for earthquake research to help rebuild Christchurch. An additional $2 million has already been committed from the 2010/11 financial year as an immediate response to the earthquake.

Data visualisation specialist Keith Ng has created a data visualisation comparing Budget category spending year on year including in science and innovation. It is available here.

Professor Sir Paul Callaghan delivered a speech in Wellington this morning just prior to the Budget and looked at the role science and innovation can play in boosting New Zealand’s prosperity. The audio of that presentation is available here.

The SMC is gathering reaction to the Budget from key figures in the science sector. Further comments will be issued in an update later this afternoon.

Professor Max Abbott, Dean of AUT University’s Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences comments:

“It’s disappointing that the trend wasn’t to follow the commitment in health and the education sector.

“It would have been really positive if there had been a stronger investment in those areas that can stimulate the economy in a significant way, say in areas like aquaculture, areas where we have strength. Agriculture, fisheries, forestry, all those areas could be further developed. Of course, the hi-tech area is one where we need to invest if we are to compete globally. A country the size of New Zealand in difficult financial times, it is important to keep investment in science going.”

“If you look at Australia, they’ve pumped a lot of money into research and education and health, though technically they haven’t been through a recession.”

Professor Shaun Hendy, Deputy Director of the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, comments:

“Although relative to other areas of budget expenditure, Vote RS&T has not been cut severely, it is important to realise that New Zealand has grossly under-invested in research spending for decades. In the 1990s,

“Finland responded to a much larger economic crisis than that New Zealand currently faces by investing heavily in science and technology. This investment saw them climb back to the top of the OECD ladder in just a decade.

“These days developed countries need to invest heavily in science and technology just to stand still, so if New Zealand is to halt its plummet through the OECD rankings it needs more than just static

government investment in this sector. It is also disappointing to see a cut in research infrastucture spending – the sector has identified investment in infrastructure as a priority for getting best value for

our current R&D dollar. Cuts to R&D infrastructure spending will have long term consequences for the international competitiveness and effectiveness of our RS&T sector.”

Anthony Scott, Chief Executive of Science New Zealand comments:

“The Government is showing its faith in the new-look Crown Research Institutes by providing, for the first time, a guaranteed sum for each CRI. Collectively the 8 CRIs will get $215 million (excluding GST) as ‘Core Funding’. This is almost a third of the total CRI revenue in the last financial year ($690M), although the percentage will vary from CRI to CRI.

“The money comes from amalgamating some contracts repeatedly won by the CRI over many years in particular science areas. Not all such contracts have been transferred, as enough has to remain for contest amongst all research providers.

“While not new money, it is a significant step which will maximise the value that New Zealand gets from its science investment. Having a reasonable sum of money enables a CRI to plan research programmes with confidence alongside its key stakeholders.

“It follows from the 2010 CRI Taskforce which clarified the purpose and role for each CRI. It recognised that while CRIs have an information advantage over central funders on both science and sector knowledge, they were being held back by cumbersome and time-consuming competitive processes. Smarter, faster decisions and closer, more flexible sector engagement was required.

“CRI Boards will be fully accountable for progress towards agreed purposes and outcomes.

“In addition, CRIs are working together and with other research organisations to actively identify areas where effectiveness and efficiency can be improved. This includes shared use of science research facilities, complementary and aligned research programmes and reducing back-office costs. The aim is to create the best science teams and outcomes for New Zealand.

“Budget 2011 delivers science research funding through Votes such as Health and Education as well as Science & Innovation. In difficult times, it is reassuring to see that investment is sustained in these key platforms for economic and environmental prosperity.”