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Trends publisher defers comment on suspension of Callaghan R&D grant

Trends Publishing International chairman David Johnson says he can't comment on specific allegations following the suspension of a three-year research and development growth grant by Callaghan Innovation after an audit of its funding claims.

In a written statement released this morning, Johnson said mid-afternoon yesterday was the first time Callaghan had contacted or met with the company since the independent audit was initiated following issues raised by staff at the innovation agency.

The company has been given until the New Year to respond to the concerns raised in the audit report after which a decision will be made on whether to terminate the grant.

Johnson said the company would address Callaghan's concerns through that process and demonstrate that it believes it has met the qualification criteria set out for the grant.

"Until the company has gone through these procedures, it is not able to comment on specifics of any concerns Callaghan may have," he said in the statement.

It's the first time the government innovation agency has suspended a grant and the matter has also been referred to the Serious Fraud Office.

If the grant is terminated Trends could be forced, under clawback provisions in the contract, to repay the $332,966 it has already received.

Callaghan Innovation won't disclose for commercial reasons the total size of the grant or what research and development project was being undertaken by Trends, but there is a $5 million annual cap on growth grants.

Growth grants provide 20 percent public co-funding for qualifying firms' eligible R&D expenditure. The qualifying criteria includes firms having to have spent at least $300,000 on research and development in each of the last two years and spent at least 1.5 percent of their revenue on R&D in NZ over the last two years.

So far Callaghan has handed out growth grants worth an estimated $309 million to 125 companies since they were introduced last year from a total available pot of $393 million.

Trends is majority owned by Johnson, a former EY Entrepreneur of the Year who has also been an international judge in the annual competition. The firm's website says it has 60 publications in the home interest and commercial design area that are published in New Zealand, Australia, US, south east Asia, the Arabian Gulf, China and India. Last year the company launched a digital platform connecting homeowners, professionals and suppliers and in October this year it launched a MyTrends project on digital lead generation.

BusinessDesk receives funding from Callaghan Innovation to write about the commercialisation of innovation.