The Tasmanian auditor-general has largely given the thumbs up to a COVID-19 response grant program that was criticised over claims of pork barrelling, confusing criteria, and unclear information about eligibility.
While the State Growth program was largely cleared of major issues, the authority issued recommendations that every grantmaker would be wise to heed.
Auditor-General Rod Whitehead said about the Tasmanian Government’s Small Business Hardship Grant Program, managed by State Growth, that: “The implementation and management of the Small Business Hardship Grant Program as measured against the audit criteria was, in all material respects, performed effectively.”
The Auditor-General suggested the program's problematic aspects could be explained partly by its rapid implementation.
‘Within the context of a Program that needed to be developed quickly, the application process was appropriately designed and risks generally identified and managed. Applications were generally assessed consistently and payments to small business were for the most part equitable and timely. The overall objective of getting hardship grants to small businesses quickly was achieved.”
The audit examined how well State Growth managed the program “to mitigate potential risks, promote equity and ensure consistency and transparency while supporting the timely payment of hardship grants to small businesses”.
There were 2928 grants issued from 3994 applications, with the balance rejected on the basis of ineligibility and “economic benefit”. The audit found that the speed at which the program was implemented meant that while grants were assessed competitively on a day-to-day basis, the process "could not be competitive over the life of the program”.
“Due to the need for the prompt distribution of grant funds the program could not be a truly competitive one but there was no bias of grants paid in terms of geographical location or business type,” the Audit Office said in a media release.
The report found that applications from the dental industry were not consistently assessed, and that communication to applicants could have been better.
The Auditor-General made four recommendations to the Department of State Growth, saying it should:
- Deploy improved web-based system functionality to increase automation, reduce the risk of human error and decrease the burden of moderation
- Introduce more detailed and timely communication to applicants who were unsuccessful or ineligible, or whose applications were being reassessed
- Publicise changes to assessment guidelines to better inform applicants
- Check eligibility criteria during the design phase and clearly communicate changes to, or clarification of, eligibility criteria to ensure all grant applications are fairly and consistently assessed.
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Download the full report: Small Business Hardship Grant Program - Tasmanian Audit Office.
SmartyGrants provides information that could help your organisation to address many of the issues identified in the report, including the Risk Management White Paper (available in the February 2021 issue of Grants Management Intelligence), the SmartyGrants Grantmaking Toolkit, the Help Hub and the SmartyGrants Tools & Resources page.