22 Sep 2015

AgResearch restructuring bungled - Labour

5:39 am on 22 September 2015

The announcement AgResearch is looking to cut 20 percent of its staff shows it is in chaos, the Labour Party says.

Radio New Zealand has been told that between 80 and 90 AgResearch scientists could lose their jobs in the latest round of restructuring.

Friesian cow.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Labour's economic development spokesperson David Clark said the institute is in a state of chaos because of bungled restructuring by the AgResearch board, and that the Science and Innvovation Minister Steven Joyce should have intervened.

"Losing our best scientists offshore through bungled restructures is no recipe for success for New Zealand," he said.

"We know the incredible track-record of AgResearch, we know how much it's contributed to productivity in the agricultural sector and we simply can't afford this sort of poor management continuing.

"And we can't afford to have a minister who sits on his hands and watches an organisation plough its way into the ground."

Mr Clark said AgResearch was on the verge of a downward spiral.

"AgResearch has had financial troubles, and in part this is because they have taken their eye off the ball, and have stopped doing as much science.

"When they lose their staff and they lose their government funding, the funding that follows that government funding dries up too," Mr Clark said.

But Mr Joyce said AgResearch was simply "right-sizing".

"All science organisations have to adjust their staffing from time to time to reflect the sort of research that they're doing," said Mr Joyce.

"And AgResearch has seen significant change in its areas of research that people value, and what I mean by people I mean the sector that pays for their research.

"So some areas that were perhaps very important 10 or 15 years ago have less support these days, and there's other areas where they want to grow," Mr Joyce said.

Mr Joyce denied AgResearch was being mismanaged. "What we're seeing is a change of research focus and as some long-standing contestable funding projects finish then they need to make changes.

"And as the sector changes, they need to make changes."

Green Party primary industries spokesperson Eugenie Sage said AgResearch had taken a hiding since the National Party came to power.

Ms Sage said more than 70 science and technician positions had gone from AgReserach over the last five years, along with more than 90 non-science roles and the insecurity was taking its toll on remaining staff.

The level of core funding for AgResearch, at $39 million, showed the Government was neglecting science in the agricultural sector.

AgResearch told Radio New Zealand it would not be commenting publically on its restructure until it had spoken to its science staff this week.