'Fast Forward' not that generous - Skilling

Skilling hopes the move will be followed by R&D encouragement in other sectors

While he sees the new Fast Forward scheme as “a step in the right direction”, David Skilling, chief executive of the New Zealand Institute, hopes it’s only a first step and will be followed by encouragement of R&D in other sectors of the economy.

The $700 million granted by the Fast Forward NZ fund isn’t nearly as generous as it seems at first, as it will probably be spent over as long as 15 years, he says.

“Considered over that period, it’s still not the commitment we need; $700 million is still only 0.5% of GDP.”

New Zealand spends just 1.2% of its GDP on research & development, while most other countries spend 3% or more.

Supporting R&D specifically for pastoral agriculture and food “makes sense, as it’s the largest part of our economy,” Skilling says. “But I’d be more relaxed about it if I could be reassured it was the first part of a long-term plan” — one that, in due course, recognises that R&D for other parts of the economy need funding as well.

“[But] I’m hopeful government won’t see this as the end of the road.”

He doesn’t see the announcement of the fund as an election-year ploy, however. No matter what the people closely involved might think, “R&D has never been a big vote-buyer.”