This article was published on 14 February 2018
Callaghan Innovation takes its obligation to be transparent and manage its expenditure responsibly very seriously, Chair Sue Suckling says.
Its role as the Government’s business innovation agency is to provide the tools and services needed to support diversification and growth in the New Zealand economy, she says.
Callaghan Innovation also earned $20 million last year from providing services to paying customers in New Zealand and overseas.
“Our board is committed to best practice and accountability, as is expected of a public sector entity,” Sue says.
“We have always had controls and policies in place to manage expenditure and continually review these. Any non-compliance with these policies is a performance issue which is dealt with.
“Travel and entertainment are an important part of delivering on our mission. For example, our 200 or so scientists and engineers are tasked with generating commercial revenue both nationally and abroad. Like their peers they need to keep their global expertise and networks up to date for the benefit of New Zealand firms and industry,” Sue says.
Callaghan Innovation’s entertainment expenses are coded using the IRD definition of entertainment and relate to a wide variety of activities that are essential to its work and supporting its super-connector role in the ecosystem. These include meetings to develop new relationships and support commercial revenue targets; hosting local and overseas delegations and events; attending conferences, industry events and award dinners; and, of course, meals for staff working away from their normal office.
The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has asked the agency under the Official Information Act for detailed financial entertainment expense data (i.e. line-by-line release of all expenses) for its 2015/16 and 2016/17 years.
When it was set up five years ago Callaghan Innovation inherited a wide range of services across different government organisations, including disparate and sometimes old systems.
Its old inherited finance system (FMIS) has now been replaced (October 2017), however the organisation has navigated these legacy systems to retrieve this data.
“We have published this information on our website,” Sue says. “While it is unusual for a Government agency to release expense data in this level of detail we have nothing to hide, and feel there is value in making it available.
“We now need to focus on getting on with our jobs to accelerate commercialisation of innovation in New Zealand and provide great service to the firms who pay revenue to us, and to whom we provide value-adding services.”
- In 2017 Callaghan Innovation received 33 Official Information Act (OIA) requests relating to the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union – 19 from the group itself, and a further 14 from individuals regarding information released to the group. To date in 2018 the agency has received a further nine OIA requests from the Taxpayers’ Union.
- About 70% of Callaghan Innovation’s travel expenditure is incurred by its 200 or so scientists and engineers. For example, its business unit Measurement Standards Laboratory works with 600 organisations in New Zealand to ensure our measurement standards meet global international standards to support our economy and trade. It’s important that Callaghan Innovation’s scientists work effectively with these clients, which requires travel and events.
- Callaghan Innovation hosts several international missions each year, and brings in international speakers to challenge our business community to innovate, both of which require travel.
- The agency plays an important role in connecting businesses to the innovation ecosystem and organises numerous events and roadshows. For example, last year it ran the Matariki X conference where 600 innovators and entrepreneurs from the Maori economy connected in Rotorua for a two-day weekend focused on driving innovation and R&D.
- Callaghan Innovation has now run two C-Prize events. This requires significant investment, much of which is classed under the catch-all ‘entertainment’ category. Dotterel, the inaugural winner, was the first New Zealand-based company ever to be accepted into TechStars and secured $500,000 of investment from this accelerator.
- R&D spend by Callaghan Innovation customers grew 46% from 2014-2016.