Volunteer NFPs Target Morrison
10 March 2015 at 11:19 am
Angry volunteer organisations have sent strong letters of complaint to Federal Social Services Minister Scott Morrison demanding answers on recent grant funding processes, claiming serious long term impacts on the sector.
Peak body, Volunteering Victoria, wrote to Minister Morrison saying it was extremely disappointed with the recent tender process, in which grants for the volunteering sector were limited to Volunteering Australia and did not include state peak services, small-scale volunteer support services or one-off grants for innovative projects.
“We have serious concerns about the process and outcomes to date, and the long term impact on the volunteering sector, people experiencing disadvantage, the broader community, and the NFP organisations that support those people and the community,” Chief Executive Officer Sue Noble said.
It is understood that Whittlesea Community Connections and Volunteer Service Network have sent similar letters to the Federal Minister.
“We are writing to express our extreme disappointment with the recent Department of Social Services (DSS) tender for social services. While we intend to put in a detailed submission to the Senate Committee Inquiry, we also wish to directly express our concerns about the process and outcomes to date,” Noble said.
“We believe the Government, which receives so much benefit from the contribution of volunteers in supporting social services, has a responsibility and an obligation to make a fair contribution to supporting the infrastructure that underpins productive, safe and sustainable volunteering.
“To fail to do so is quite simply a false economy. It not only undermines the effectiveness of the nation’s volunteer effort (which is critical to civil society) but it also disrespects volunteers and volunteering (discouraging future volunteering effort). In other words, a failure to invest in volunteering will result in people doing less of it and doing it less well.
“In 2010, formal volunteering was estimated to be worth $25.4 billion to the Australian economy and informal assistance was valued at $59.3 billion. However, even these impressive numbers undersell the real value of volunteering – volunteering has a far greater social value and impact than just the notional cost of paying for that time.
“The tender model called ‘A New Way of Working’ promised to cut red tape, streamline the application process and provide longer term funding agreements to enable the social services sector to maintain stability, certainty and efficiency. In reality, it did not live up to any of these promises.”
Noble said Volunteering Victoria’s key concerns about the tender process and outcomes for the volunteering sector were:
1. The large amount of work required to apply for grants
2. Short time allowed to apply for grants (4 weeks)
3. Confusing process for applying for grants
4. Length of time to make decisions about grants (6 months)
5. Grants only given for 12 to 15 months
6. Funding generally reduced and excluded altogether for some activities
“While VSOs were told at the end of December which grants they would get, they were not told until the end of January 2015 exactly how much money that would entail. This effectively meant metropolitan VSOs were still in limbo until just one month before their funding extension expired,” she said.
“The volunteering sector seeks a full and detailed explanation as to how the new process was designed, and how the evaluation and decision-making process was undertaken.”
The letter calls on the Minister to explain in detail how the tender process unfolded.
“What were the intended community outcomes of the changes to the DSS grant programs? What was the evidence base in support of the changes? Why were such significant changes to such a large number of programs undertaken in such a short timeframe? Why didn’t the Government and DSS consult with those in the social services sector who may have been able to assist in designing effective changes?” the letter said.
“In clear terms, what practical steps were taken to evaluate the thousands of applications received? Who was involved in the evaluation process? How did DSS assess social exclusion and disadvantage, to ensure grants were allocated to the stated priority groups? How much consideration was given to ensuring equitable service-provision across all geographic areas? How did DSS calculate the amount of funding granted to each successful applicant?
How much has this process cost to implement and in particular, how much has the 5-month blow-out in timelines cost DSS and tax-payers?
“We request an explanation as to why volunteering sector organisations were restricted to 12 to 15 month funding agreements.
“We recognise that, as in any sector, there is always room for improvement. However, at no stage was the volunteering sector consulted about what was currently working well, areas for improvement or work underway to enhance volunteering services – despite correspondence sent to then Minister Andrews and DSS requesting consultation (more than once).
“Ultimately what eventuated was a disappointing process, which has had a direct negative impact on volunteering, and on the vital contribution that volunteers make to providing social services to disadvantaged Australians (the very people the grants were designed to support).”
The Senate is conducting an inquiry into the impact of the recent tender for community services by the Department of Social Services (DSS). The due date for submissions is 20 March 2015. The full terms of reference are available here.
In 2014 the Government cut the DSS budget by $271 million over four years. DSS subsequently announced new grant arrangements to condense 18 programs into seven. The new process promised to cut red tape, streamline the application process and provide longer term funding agreements.
Applications under the new arrangements opened in late June 2014 and closed just four weeks later. DSS received more than 5,500 applications for grants worth more than $3.9 billion but only $800 million was available.
The Australian Greens, who initially called for the Senate inquiry, described the grants process as ‘shambolic.’
Volunteering Victoria says it also intends to put in a detailed submission to the Senate Committee Inquiry. The Senate Committee is due to publish its report which is due by for release on 26 March 2015.