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 key recommendations that everything grantmaker would be wise to heed.
The 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 problem aspects of the program could be explained partly through 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 those rejected on the basis of ineligibility and “economic benefit”, but once again, the speed at which the program was implemented meant while grants were assessed competitively on day-to-day basis, but that could not be consistently applied “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 report found applications from the dental industry were not consistently assessed, and that communication could have been better to applicants.
The Auditor-General made four recommendations to State Growth, including that they:
- 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, 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.
Download the full report: Small Business Hardship Grant Program - Tasmanian Audit Office
SmartyGrants provides crucial advice that could help you address many of these issues, through our Risk Management White Paper (available in the February 2021 Grants Management Intelligence), the SmartyGrants Grantmaking Toolkit, the Help Hub and the SmartyGrants Tools & Resources page.