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Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce has admitted there was no ''robust and accepted methodology'' behind shifting Invermay jobs, Labour's MP for Dunedin North David Clark says.
However, Mr Joyce responded by saying Dr Clark was ''playing with words''.
''He is referring to a short comment lifted out of the business case that I confirmed to him was accurate. Dr Clark needs a Christmas break.''
The exchange comes after Dr Clark asked if Mr Joyce was satisfied with AgResearch's advice that no ''robust and accepted method'' of assessing the economic benefits of ''co-locating'' staff in hubs could be identified.
Mr Joyce responded to the written question by saying: ''I am satisfied that advice was accurate.''
The initial comment was made in AgResearch's Future Footprint case, which detailed the economic benefits of having staff in ''larger clusters'' and was approved by the Government in April.
''While we believe the benefits may be substantial we have not identified a robust and accepted method to precisely quantify them and it has been advised that we do not,'' the business case said.
Dr Clark said the significance of Mr Joyce's admission could not be ''underestimated''.
''It is no coincidence Mr Joyce has finally decided to respond just five days out from Christmas, rather than two months ago when the question was lodged.''
The admission gave further weight to criticism levelled at AgResearch's plan by its internal change management team review, the Dunedin City Council's submission and Business and Economic Research Ltd's (Berl) report.
''All three found that while much of AgResearch's restructuring proposal advanced the organisation's objectives, the decision to shift Invermay scientists did not.''
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said it was concerning AgResearch could not find a ''robust'' method for assessing the benefits of its decision.
''The minister should be asking to come up with something that ... is more robust. There is a lot at stake here.''
Otago Regional Council chairman Stephen Woodhead said it was ''blatantly obvious'' there was no robust methodology behind the decision.
''We need to now ask the minister to instruct AgResearch to call a halt to the process and seek some independent and quality advice,'' he said.
Mr Cull this week launched the ''Save Invermay'' website, www.saveinvermay.co.nz.
The website contains documents on AgResearch's plan and links to news stories on the issue, and lists reasons why Invermay should be expanded rather than downsized.