Treasury recommended delaying some science investments to ensure 'value for money'
Treasury officials advised Finance Minister Bill English to put off funding several new science programmes for a year which they said couldn't yet demonstrate enough value for the money invested.
In two aide memorandum to English this year, Treasury officials said they backed plans for targeted funding in bodies that had proved themselves and were ready for investment, such as the Marsden Fund, Pre-Seed Accelerator Fund and Health Research Council. However, they were wary of immediately injecting new funding into the regional research institutes, Catalyst Fund, and Strategic Science Investment Fund as they didn't view them as able to "demonstrate sufficient evidence of value".
"We support in-principle decisions to increase funding for these mechanisms, but consider that deferring funding decisions at this time would help ensure the greatest impact and value for money from further funding," Treasury officials said in a Feb. 5 report to English. "We therefore consider Budget 2017 will present a greater opportunity for broader increases in public research funding to make a contribution towards the government's objective of increasing public research funding to 0.8 percent of GDP."
The Treasury had also recommended delaying increases in funding for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's contestable science fund and Crown Research Institutes' core funding so that recent reviews could either be completed or assessed.
"If further funding is budgeted for science and innovation funding in future budgets before 2019/20, then it would seem likely that the 'target' of $1.6 billion could be reached (or exceeded) more gradually over time," Treasury officials said in an April 8 document to English. "This would ensure the 'target' is reached through further, future investment in areas of the science system which have a high level of investment readiness and proven excellence of outcomes."
Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce won out over the Treasury advice, announcing an extra $41.5 million for science research. The biggest beneficiary was the MBIE contestable fund which was renamed the Endeavour Fund. Joyce later told Parliament's education and science select committee funding was tilted towards mission-led and investigator-led programmes having previously focused on work that was closer to market.