Design and administration of the WestInvest program

Report highlights

What this report is about

WestInvest is a $5 billion funding program announced in September 2021 to provide ‘local infrastructure to help communities hit hard by COVID-19’ in 15 local government areas (LGAs) selected by the government. It was divided into three parts: $3 billion for NSW government agency projects; $1.6 billion for competitive grants to councils and community groups; and $400 million for non-competitive grants to councils.

Following the change of government at the 2023 election, the program was renamed the Western Sydney Infrastructure Grants Program. Funding decisions made for the community and local government grants were retained, but multiple funding decisions for the NSW government projects were changed.

The audit objective was to assess the integrity of the design and implementation of the program and the award of program funding.

Findings

The design of the program lacked integrity because it was not informed by robust research or analysis to justify the commitment of public money to a program of this scale.

The then government did not have sufficient regard to the implications for the state's credit rating. A risk to the credit rating arose because the government may have been perceived to be using proceeds from major asset sales to fund new expenditure, rather than pay down its debt.

Decisions about program design were made by the then Treasurer's office without consultation with affected communities. The rationale for these decisions was not documented or made public.

For the NSW government projects, funding allocations did not follow advice from departments. Many funded projects did not meet the objectives of the program.

The two other rounds of the program were administered effectively, except for some gaps in documentation and quality assurance. The program guidelines did not require an equitable or needs-based distribution of funding across LGAs and there was a significant imbalance in funding between the 15 LGAs.

Recommendations

Our recommendations for the administration of future funding programs included:

  • considering whether competitive grants are the best way to achieve the program's purpose
  • completing program design and guidelines before announcements
  • ensuring adequate quality assurance.

We also recommended that when providing advice for submissions by Ministers to Cabinet, agencies should ensure that departmental advice is clearly identified and is distinct from other advice or political considerations.

 

Read the PDF report

Parliamentary reference - Report number #391 - released 28 February 2024

Fast facts