Getting grant administration right*

Has Council seen words like these in a letter or email from a Commonwealth Department?

“In light of the performance of the project to date the Department emphasises that it will take a hard line in relation to any future milestones not being met and that project termination is a real option.”

These are actual words taken from a recent email to a council from a Commonwealth Department about an infrastructure project.  This is not isolated, and is part of a growing trend.  Colin Steele, Managing Director of Section51, a consultancy that assists local and state governments with Australian Government grants and funding, says ‘I can explain why.’

The increased number of Commonwealth grant programs available directly to Local Government has been accompanied by an increased focus on grants administration.   In April, the Minister for Finance, Penny Wong, released updated Commonwealth Grant Guidelines, effective from 1st June 2013. As Minister Wong says in the foreword ‘…the Commonwealth Grant Guidelines articulate the Government’s expectations for both government and non-government stakeholders involved in grants  administration.’

The guidelines set out how Commonwealth departments should design and administer grant programs, including funding agreements, reporting and acquittal.  All Commonwealth public servant grant managers are required to be familiar with these guidelines.  They are particularly aware of clauses such as 12.12 which says ‘Adequate and well-documented arrangements to ensure financial accountability are the basis of effective grant acquittal. Reliable, timely and adequate evidence is required to demonstrate that grant money has been expended in accordance with the terms and conditions of the grant agreement.’ p28

Thus after the excitement of being told that your Council has been successfully with your RDAF, CEEP, TQUAL or any of the many grants in the pipeline, and you have signed the funding agreement, remember how important grant administration is going to be, for the life of the grant.  Completion of milestone reports is now increasingly required before milestone payments, reporting is often against the Commonwealth policy objectives rather than activities and acquittal requires evidence.  But it doesn’t have to be painful.  The Commonwealth public servants want to help you: they do not want to have to send that threat of termination email.  We know from the work that Section51 does to help Councils, that if you keep the communication up, get help if the project is not going according to plan and remember that administration is a critical part of delivery, then everyone benefits.

*Copy supplied by Section51.

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