Sunday, May 26, 2024

Damning review prompts ALGA call for funding transparency

The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) has called for more fair and transparent Federal funding of regional infrastructure following the release of the Australian National Audit Office’s (ANAO) damning review of the Building Better Regions Fund. 

The ANAO’s assessment of the $1.15 billion program found that two thirds of funded infrastructure projects were “not those assessed as being the most meritorious”.

Since 2016, the Building Better Regions Fund has financially backed almost 1,300 projects.

The review revealed that 65% of funding recipients were not appropriately informed by departmental advice.

While saying the grants program itself was well designed, the ANAO was critical of a lack of documentation around decisions.

ALGA president, Linda Scott said the government should focus on formula-based funding programs such as Financial Assistance Grants and the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program.  

“The October Federal Budget is an opportunity for the Government to re-direct funding from competitive grants programs to Financial Assistance Grants and ensure that funding is fairly provided right across the country,” Cr Scott said. 

“Financial Assistance Grants have declined from 1% of Commonwealth taxation revenue in 1996 to just 0.55% today, and this has had a significant impact on many of our regional and rural councils that rely heavily on this funding. 

“Some councils are looking at closing local facilities such as swimming pools or reducing their community centre hours of service due to budgetary pressures. 

“Other councils can’t move ahead on key projects such as vital stormwater upgrades because they’ve been unable to secure funding through over-subscribed grants programs.” 

Cr Scott said the ALGA wants to see Financial Assistance Grants restored to 1% to ensure that every Australian council is “sustainable, and every community is liveable”. 

The ANAO has called on officials to tighten grants funding eligibility criteria and recommended that the panel reject non-supported applications, clearly justify reasons for not approving applications recommended for funding, and improve application and approval record-keeping practices.

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