Report highlights: Integrity of grant program administration

What the report is about

This report assessed the integrity of the assessment and approval processes for two grant programs:

  • Stronger Communities Fund Round 2 (tied grants round), which was administered by the former Office of Local Government (OLG) and provided $252 million to newly amalgamated councils and other councils that had been subject to a merger proposal during 2017–18 and 2018–19.
  • Regional Cultural Fund, which was administered by Create NSW (now within the Department of Premier and Cabinet) and awarded $100 million for cultural projects in regional NSW.

What we found

The assessment and approval process for Round 2 of the Stronger Communities Fund lacked integrity. The government decided to prioritise funds for councils that had worked constructively with the government through the 2016 merger process. 

However, this information was not included in the program guidelines. The program guidelines were not published and did not contain details of selection and assessment processes. Councils and projects were instead identified by the former Premier, Deputy Premier and Minister for Local Government and communicated to OLG with little or no information about the basis for the council or project selection. There was no merit assessment of identified projects. This process resulted in 96 per cent of funds allocated to coalition state seats.

The assessment process that Create NSW used for the Regional Cultural Fund was robust and produced transparent and defensible recommendations to the minister. However, the former Minister for the Arts, in consultation with the former Deputy Premier, did not follow the recommendations of the independent assessment panel in 22 per cent of cases. Reasons for these changes were not documented by Create NSW.

What we recommended

The Department of Premier and Cabinet should develop a model for grant administration that must be used for all grant programs administered in NSW that:

  • is based on ethical principles such as impartiality, equity and transparency 
  • ensures assessments and decisions can be made against clear eligibility criteria
  • ensures accountability for decisions and actions of all those who are involved in the program 
  • includes minimum mandatory administration and documentation standards
  • requires any ministerial override of recommendations to be documented. 

The Department of Planning and Environment should ensure that guidelines prepared for all grant programs are published and include a governance framework that includes accountabilities and key assessment steps.

Fast facts    

Stronger Communities Fund Round 2

  • $252m allocated to 24 councils    
  • 96% allocated to council projects in coalition state seats
  • 36% of the funding ($90m) was allocated to a single council
  • $8m in projects identified before the program guidelines were finalised

Regional Cultural Fund

  • 405 applications received across three funding rounds
  • $99m awarded for 147 cultural projects in regional NSW 
  • 22% panel recommendations not followed by ministers  
  • $9.3m awarded to projects not recommended by panel

Further information

Please contact Ian Goodwin, Deputy Auditor-General on 9275 7347 or by email.