ACOSS Newsletter

Message from the CEO, December 2014

Dear ACOSS member,

With just four working days left until the official holidays commence, ACOSS is acutely aware of the extreme impact that the untenable funding uncertainty from Department of Social Services is having on our sector.

I am writing to update you on ACOSS’ work to secure funding certainty and what we know.

Advice today to ACOSS from the Department of Social Service confirms that, while the detail of individual agreements is still to be determined, the Department intends to notify applicants of the outcome of their DSS applications by 24 December.

Since the May Budget ACOSS has been advocating strongly against the funding cuts that were introduced at that time. Cuts to service funding under DSS are forecast at $240 million over 4 years. Members may have seen the recent evidence from Department of Social Services to Senate Estimates indicating that the current round of DSS funding saw 5,500 applications seeking more than $3.9 billion in funding, where only $800 million is available.

On top of the direct cuts to DSS programs, the freeze on indexation of payments introduced by the Government will affect many organisations directly in terms of their capacity to meet demand and to maintain terms and conditions for their staff; compounding the experience for services that were already receiving government funding with little or no indexation. Beyond DSS, we have seen other program reforms impact upon the sector’s capacity including through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy and through the ongoing uncertainty around national agreements such as the National Partnership Agreement for Homelessness. These are all areas about which ACOSS has ongoing concerns, in terms of the adequacy of funding for these areas of high need in Australia.

In addition to appropriate levels of funding, ACOSS has been advocating strongly for funding certainty that enables community services to meet their obligations to their clients and their staff; and for appropriate transitional periods where organisations may receive reduced or no funding as a result of these cuts. We recently sent the following recommendations to improve the funding environment to the Minister for Social Services the Hon. Kevin Andrews MP.

  • Guarantee a minimum of 12 months secure funding for existing organisations, while a new funding round is undertaken;
  • Ensure that new contracts are finalised at least 6 months prior to the end of existing contracts, in accordance with good governance and risk management principles;
  • Ensure that there is advance notice of at least 6 months of service procurement processes;
  • Where there are significant changes to the size, scope or nature of services tendered, ensure that there is clear and open consultation and collaboration with services concerning program design and service outcomes;
  • Support and encourage services to engage service users in service design and evaluation;
  • Ensure any funding or tendering process preferences the options of direct negotiation or select tender, with open tender processes only being used in circumstances where clear benefits for competitive processes can be demonstrated;
  • Ensure contracts operate with a presumption of a minimum of 5 years funding;
  • Ensure no contracts prohibit organisations from participating in independent research, policy development and public debate, including advocacy;
  • Provide for industry assistance, including transition funding, and job transfers to reduce the risks of increasing unemployment, and the loss of the expertise and skills of the existing workforces;
  • Ensure there is adequate provision for redundancies for staff affected by changes in service procurement.

We have also briefed the media and undertaken public advocacy both as part of releasing the ACOSS Community Sector Survey and also releasing of a joint letter to Minister Andrews with the state and territory COSSes.

In the joint letter to Minister Andrews, we conveyed our alarm about the severe impact this uncertainty is having on organisations, services, and staff. As we wrote:
Many of our members have expressed alarm about the chronic uncertainty. An unknown number of organisations are now at serious risk of operating insolvent, with the inability to meet existing liabilities within committed resources. We believe many organisations are experiencing loss of staff due to insecure work environments, or forced delays of critical decisions including recruitment and service planning, to responsibly manage the funding risks.  This environment is leading to consequential reductions in service delivery.

It remains unclear when organisations will be told individually about the detail of their funding applications. It also remains unclear what provision will be made for transitional arrangements for organisations where funding is reduced or removed entirely.

We will continue to advocate strongly on these as critical elements both for effective community services and as responsible employers given that Australia’s charities contribute 8% of employment nationally.

Please keep ACOSS informed about how you fare under this funding round, including the outcome of funding applications and the implications for your organisations and services. You can contact myself or ACOSS Deputy CEO [email protected]

I hope, despite this uncertainty, that everyone enjoys a break over the next couple of weeks,

Cassandra Goldie, CEO