‘DAMNING’: Northern Rivers councils slam process for grants

A NUMBER of councils on the Northern Rivers have raised major concerns as part of an inquiry into the integrity of NSW government grants.

The inquiry was established to report on the integrity, efficacy and value for money of grant programs.

Lismore, Ballina Shire, Richmond Valley, Kyogle and Tweed Shire councils have all made submissions.

The inquiry begins on September 21.

It comes as Lismore MP Janelle Saffin demanded the government be held accountable for the "blatant attempt to buy marginal seats like Lismore".

She said Lismore council's submission which states pre-election funding opportunities were "often opaque" and don't respond to a community's needs was "damning".

Ms Saffin said over three rounds of the Stronger Country Communities Fund, the Lismore electorate received 74 grants, with 41 announced in round two.


Lismore City Council

In their submission, Lismore City Council general manager Shelley Oldham wrote there had been a "significant lack of transparency" in the assessment and outcome advice of grants.

The council also raised concerns about how long it took for funds to be delivered.

"Post the 2017 Cyclone Debbie devastating flood funding, Lismore City Council invested over 700 hours just in following up funding promises," Ms Oldham wrote.

"Beyond this I and the Mayor had to engage our local member and ultimately fly to Sydney to make representations to ministers to obtain outstanding funding.

"The funding was finally received two years after the event.

"This created great stress in our organisation and our community."


Richmond Valley Council

General manager Vaughan Macdonald wrote that their council received 39 per cent of their income from grants.

"Council expends considerable time and resources each year in preparing grant applications," his submission states.

"Having made this commitment, it is reasonable for applicants to expect that the assessment process for each funding program is equitable, transparent and merit-based.

"RVC is very appreciative of the funding support from government programs, however there have been times when council has questions about the outcomes of the funding allocations."

Mr Macdonald said feedback on unsuccessful applications had often led to "frustration" because "factors beyond our control impede successful outcomes".


Ballina Shire Council

Mayor David Wright said in his submission to the inquiry that their council had concerns about grants that were determined on cost/benefit ratios.

"From our experience (this) does not work, as that type of methodology does not fully recognise the social benefits from community infrastructure projects," he wrote.


Kyogle Council

General manager Graham Kennett said his council was "heavily dependent" on external grant funding.

"We are always appreciative of any and all funding that comes our way," he wrote in Kyogle's submission.

"However, there is significant room for improvement in the manner in which grant funding is allocated and distributed to local government in NSW.

"We struggle because the grants programs are not designed with the delivery partner or the communities needs in mind.

"The highest impact issue is the doubt about securing funds, due primarily to the competitive nature and relatively narrow focus of many grant programs."

Mr Kennett said another major problem was when grant applications required significant co-contributions from the council.

"This favours those councils with the funding available to match, and further limits those who are most in need of external funding," he said.

"The current system essentially results in skewed and inequitable outcomes where the main funding recipients are the larger more resourced councils, which only serves to further emphasise the social inequity between the larger metropolitan areas and the reminder of the communities living in regional and remote areas in NSW.

"In summary … stop making us compete against each other all the time.

"Give us a medium to long term funding commitment that we can plan around.

"Give us more flexibility in what we can use the funds for to suit the needs of our local community."


Tweed Shire Council

Their submission stated they had "significant concerns" regarding the way grants were initiated, developed and managed.

"While funding of infrastructure and initiatives for local communities is welcomed, we do not believe the current processes provide efficient or the best use of limited funds for the good of our communities," the submission states.

"The objectives of many funding programs are too narrow and do not enable upfront efficient use of funds to solve broader problems and to reduce or avoid larger costs in the future.

"The focus of many funding programs is on 'shiny new things' as opposed to renewing or improving existing assets.

More realistic timeframes and funding inclusions would significantly reduce project risks and improve project outcomes."

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