14 Mar 2024

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

3:39 pm on 14 March 2024
Callaghan Innovation sign in Lower Hutt.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

This story was updated to clarify people would need to move out of buildings if required.

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.

It also said the buildings the scientists worked in needed to be assessed for safety and seismic risks, and if required people would need to move out during this time.

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 country could not afford to lose any scientists.

"We're really concerned what it's going to result in is a focus on short-term commercial research at the expense of that public good science. Investment in things like how we address climate change, or our infrastructure deficit and how we respond to an ageing population, these are aspects of the public good science that we need our best and brightest, like those at Callaghan, focused on."

Fitzsimons said the proposal was a direct result of the government demanding 7.5 percent cuts across the public sector and cancelling the Wellington Science City plan that would have invested in new buildings for the organisation.

"We also call on the minister to turn her mind to this issue and to instead focus on investing in public good science and modern facility because what we know is that the best economies in the world value the work of scientists, they don't cut funding."

She said the union would oppose the proposed cuts and would continue to support its members at Callaghan.

Callaghan said in a statement it was currently in consultation with staff on the proposal and would not comment any further.

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."