18 Nov 2017

Science funding too unpredictable - GNS head

12:55 pm on 18 November 2017

The head of GNS Science wants more stability in funding for the research organisation.

Ian Simpson, Chief Executive, GNS Science NZ

Ian Simpson, Chief Executive, GNS Science NZ Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The previous government introduced a new funding system in 2011 which covers the Crown Research Institute's basic costs, but a review last year found improvements are needed.

Ian Simpson, who was previously the head of the Earthquake Commission, said the problem was not the level of funding as much as the need for a more predictable funding system.

"Under the previous government the overall funding for research was increased, but from a CRI perspective we'd just like some stability in the funding system from hereon, rather than the multiple changes we've seen in previous years," he said.

The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment said GNS Science currently received base funding of $24.9 million a year over seven years to support long-term strategic science. Any additional funding for specific projects is contestable.

An MBIE spokesperson said $11m of the base funding supported "sustainable management of geological resources", $11.3m was for research into geological processes, hazards and risks, and $2.6m was for nuclear and isotope science that supports industrial and environmental benefits and hazards.

Mr Simpson was in Marlborough in the last week as part of an international conference of earthquake scientists - a year after the area was rocked by the 7.8 magnitude quake.

He said GNS has had a lot on its plate after that jolt, and looking ahead it was likely to need to do more in terms of research and analysis.

"Some of the great science we've seen published by GNS scientists since Kaikōura (earthquake) include data from NASA satellites, and measurements taken on the ground - a whole range of areas.

"We're just in the process now of taking stock and understanding where we're strongest and where we can contribute the most to make sure we invest in those capabilities."

Mr Simpson said GNS employs 380 people around the country - most based in Lower Hutt - and while there were obvious differences in what his former role required to his current role, he said EQC was largely misunderstood.

"I've moved from a group of people who run away from earthquakes, to those who run towards them - it's very interesting. But to be honest, the culture at EQC was really positive. Most of the staff joined after the Christchurch earthquake because they wanted to help out so there was a real strong core spirit to the place."

"At GNS we could tell our story a lot better. I think we're slightly too well hidden and we'd like to focus on getting our message across a little bit better."

A spokesperson for Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods said stable funding was the mark of a productive science system.

"Last time Labour was in government we made significant gains with core funding to the CRIs and it's certainly something the Minister is aware of the need for."

MBIE said funding comes via its Strategic Science Investment Fund, and the total allocated across all CRIs this year for investment in research programmes and infrastructure was $261 million.