AgResearch's admission it largely squandered $15.5
million on buildings in 2007 and 2008 inspires little
confidence its latest plan will be a success, two former staff
Former Invermay director Dr Jock Allison and former senior
scientist Dr Bernie McLeod slammed the spending on
facilities, after AgResearch chief executive Dr Tom
Richardson detailed its investment in buildings at Invermay
at a meeting in Gore on Wednesday.
Dr Richardson said at the meeting none of the buildings
constructed in 2007 and 2008 were fully utilised, including
the $11 million Christie Building.
''It's been less than half full since the day we opened it.
It's now got a book value about half of what it was when we
built it,'' he said of the Christie Building.
The about $3 million spent on an animal handling facility in
the hope other scientists would move into it was also a
''That didn't eventuate. It's never been used, other than as
office [space] for our farm staff at the moment.''
A new ''possum house'' built for about $1.5 million to
support possum research carried out at Invermay closed almost
as soon as it opened.
''It only lasted a few months after the building was opened,
literally,'' Dr Richardson said.
Dr Allison and Dr McLeod told the Otago Daily Times
yesterday these failures inspired little confidence in
AgResearch's restructuring plan, which involves spending $100
million on buildings and shifting about 75 jobs from Invermay
Dr McLeod, who was made redundant in 2010 when the possum
research unit he led was dismantled, said scientists at
Invermay repeatedly told management the new facilities would
not be needed.
''We just kept saying 'It won't be used; it's a waste of
money', and they just said `Well this is the way we are going
to do it','' he said.
AgResearch continued to ignore the advice of its scientists
with its latest plan, which the majority were against.
''There will be a few middle management people who can't say
yes fast enough to anything that senior management says, but
everybody else [disagrees].''
The atmosphere among Invermay staff was ''diabolical'' and
the way staff were treated was shown by the fact the ''four
or five'' Invermay staff at the meeting in Gore were told by
management ''not to say anything''.
The four ''star'' scientists who had indicated to meeting
organiser Hamish Bielski they would not be shifting to
Lincoln would also be in ''strife'' for revealing their
intentions, he said.
Dr Allison said there was ''no question'' its latest building
programme would be a repeat of its previous failures.
''They didn't need the Christie Building for starters, and
they were blaming Otago University for not coming out [to the
building] but they set the rent so high ... that they
couldn't come out.''
He was also keen to remind AgResearch the motion of no
confidence in the board and senior management left on the
table at the meeting in Gore would be brought up again if
AgResearch did not act on what was said at the meeting and
provide some answers ''within a week or two''.
An AgResearch spokeswoman last night said the farming
industry could be assured AgResearch's plans were being made
with the support of primary sector stakeholders which
understood farmers' needs, including industry bodies such as
Beef and Lamb New Zealand and DairyNZ and AgResearch's
research and university partners.
The Future Footprint programme involved developing innovation
hubs with other partners to maximise the benefits of
expenditure on building and the core staff retained at
Invermay would make the most of the Christie Building.
Retaining staff was AgResearch's key priority, not buildings,
and it was working with the staff whose roles were relocating
in three years' time to ensure they had what support they
needed and would ''be able to make the best possible decision
for them and their families''.
It was not true staff were told not to speak at the Gore
meeting, or that staff were in any trouble for mentioning
they were not going to Lincoln, she said.