18 Mar 2015

Agresearch scientist plan needs 'update'

7:33 pm on 18 March 2015

The Auditor-General has recommended AgResearch put a more detailed case for its controversial scientist relocation project.

Lyn Provost has investigated the crown research institute's $100 million Future Footprint plan after a complaint from three Labour MPs questioning the quality of the business case and consultation process.

AgResearch last year confirmed the plan to move 250 staff mainly from Ruakura in Hamilton and Invermay in Dunedin to create new science hubs in Lincoln and Palmerston North.

After an eight-month investigation involving site visits, Ms Provost has found the business case AgResearch wrote in 2012 was sufficient to get initial approval for the project, but not enough for full implementation.

She said the project was large and relatively high-risk, and recommended AgResearch write an updated case with more detail to bridge developments in the past three years.

Ms Provost rejected the MPs' other complaints, finding AgResearch did consult extensively on the plan, and was satisfactorily managing staff retention risks and conflicts of interest.

AgResearch's chief executive Tom Richardson told a parliamentary select committee it already planned to rewrite its case.

He said the detailed case would be finished by the end of June.

David Clark, Labour's economic development spokesperson, was one of the three MPs who laid the complaint.

He said the investigation was playing fast and loose with taxpayer money.

Mr Clark said the institute did not have a suitable business case for its restructuring. He said AgResearch had lost at least 17 key scientists from its Invermay research teams as a result of the plan.

"They don't even know if there will be a positive return to the changes they're proposing.

"They're throwing a hundred million dollars of taxpayer money in the air and they don't even have a case that says this is better than sitting on their hands and doing nothing."

Mr Clark said today the report had shown up the lack of a compelling and up-to-date business case, and revealed AgResearch's lack of project management capacity.

He said sheep-farmers, scientists and southern residents who want Invermay to be retained should take hope from the findings.