Auditor General called to inquiry

The senate inquiry into the Department of Social Services tendering process has called on the Auditor General to investigate and make changes to the Commonwealth Grants Guidelines.

The report also called on the Auditor General to examine “the effect the truncated timelines of the 2014 process had on poor engagement with the not- for-profit (NFP) sector and stakeholder disenfranchisement”.

The inquiry, Impact on service quality, efficiency and sustainability of recent Commonwealth community service tendering processes by the Department of Social Services was initiated by WA Greens Senator Rachel Siewert after the Federal Government's $1 billion cuts to community services in 2014.

It received 97 submissions from a range of peak bodies and community service providers.

NFP peak bodies and leading welfare organisations have vented their anger and frustration over the Department of Social Services’ “open tender” process in which just 15 per cent of applications for funding were successful.

The inquiry was told that the Department of Social Services received 5,572 applications from welfare groups seeking $3.9 billion over four years when there was just $800 million available.

As a result, a number of peak bodies and advocacy groups learned that they had been defunded as part of the $240 million budget cuts to social services − two days before Christmas.

The interim senate report tabled in Parliament said an Auditor General review should include an assessment of how the process fared against each of the Commonwealth Grants Guidelines seven key principles:

  • Robust planning and design.
  • Collaboration and partnership.
  • Proportionality.
  • An outcomes orientation.
  • Achieving value with relevant money.
  • Governance and accountability.
  • Probity and transparency.

The inquiry committee recommended that the Auditor General also consider the merit of a two-stage process for discretionary grant funding applications, beginning with an expression of interest (EOI) followed by a closed grant round for successful EOI applicants; and whether there is merit in setting a standard that requires that new contracts are finalised within a minimum time prior to the end of existing service contracts.

The inquiry has been given an extension to deliver the full report by 19 August 2015.

Read the interim report here.