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Oh great – yes the May 24 budget announcement has $178 million allocated over five years for the evolution of Industrial Research into an Advanced Technology Institute.

But buried in the numbers (page 108, here) is a huge reason to not get too excited that too much is going to happen anytime soon.

Why? Namely a $1.871 million allocation to the Ministry of Science and Innovation (subsumed now into MoBIE) for ‘Advice and Support’ on shaping the Science and Innovation system MCOA (M84)’.

What does it mean?

Exactly nothing; now and in the immediate future and for a fair while beyond that too probably.

But the good news is there will be more meetings. Might as well get some consultants in to…..can’t have enough of those. The odd report or two or three probably won’t go astray as well.

So, just at a time when we (NZ Inc) really needs an ATI to be bursting into life and adding another extremely necessary piece to our innovation ecosystem, we’ve got some sand, lots of it, thrown into the gearbox.

Aaagghhh.

There’s a good reason the word ‘evolution’ is used in the opening sentence.

Trying to prescribe what IRL-cum-ATI should look like, and trying to backseat-drive the process through bureaucrats is stupid. (Not the least reason is that during the MSI’s 18 month lifespan, many of its best people have left).

For goodness sake, give the combined brains of IRL, industry (and government with a very small ‘g’) the mandate simply to get on with getting on.

This will mean growing the Auckland and Christchurch parts as required, as well as refreshing and refurbishing the Wellington HQ. IRL has a modular laboratory/office design that can easily be set up in different sites. These are ready to begin, now, if only the green-for-go button is pressed.

As with nature, an embryonic ATI could evolve very quickly, and start providing the services and skills required to create high margin (as well as high value) manufacturing.

Call me a pessimist, but as things stand at the moment, given the underlying ‘advice and support’ for IRL/ATI, we’ll still be faffing around this time next year and no further ahead.

And that’s exactly what we don’t want.