Remove roadblocks to delivering much needed community services

23 June 2021

Community Sector services call on Federal and State and Territory governments to address key roadblocks that restrict their ability to effectively help many people experiencing poverty and hardship.

New research conducted for ACOSS and the COSS Network by the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW Sydney pulls together the experience of a range of community sector service providers and peak organisations to reveal that most community organisations providing government funded services struggle with severely inadequate funding and insecure contracts that result in lack of employment security for their staff and uncertainty of service provision for people experiencing hardship.

The report Valuing Australia’s community sector: Better contracting for capacity, sustainability and impact provides recommendations to improve the capacity of community organisations to do their important work.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said:

“The most important change governments can make that will provide job security for frontline workers and certainty for people needing services is longer contracts and funding agreements that cover the full cost of providing the service.

“Service providers reported their intense frustration that one or two year service contracts, and delays in contract renewals meant they had to reduce staffing and stop much needed services.

“This could be solved by providing at least 5 year contracts and funding certainty, instead of keeping service providers on tenterhooks about whether their funding would continue.

“Service providers also want more notice of changes to funding so they can prepare staff and clients if they need to close a service or transition it to another provider.

“With so many communities impacted by fire, floods and the pandemic, we’re also seeking more flexibility for services in communities impacted by natural disasters. They need to be able to redirect funding to meet agreed alternative services.

“We want to see the design and management of government programs place the people and communities who use them at the centre of their design and delivery.

“We also identified a need for governments to support sector diversity by providing funding to small, medium and large organisations working to address poverty, disadvantage and marginalisation. Small organisations currently face challenges applying for funds, succeeding in competitive processes, and engaging in complex contractual and reporting environments.

“Most importantly, we call for the removal of restrictions on using government funds for advocacy or law reform in funding contracts. We are strongly opposed to the current attempts to put in place additional regulations that could lead to further threats to the advocacy capacity of community organisations.”

Impacts on staffing and service provision of short contracts

We are funded often on an annual basis. Sometimes it might be two years, it might be three years…A large number of the services that we deliver are based around a 12-month or 24-month cycle, so you get to the kind of eleventh month of the year and…you’re not quite sure whether you’re winding down services, whether you’re going to have to build sustainability into the program, etcetera…You’re always constantly looking at the ground in front of you, you can’t look further ahead. (Large health service)

I’m often, and I’m doing it right now, worried about having to make staff redundant because I haven’t had confirmation on funding for the next year…I say this every year, it will probably resolve itself. But it’s a lot of unnecessary worry and planning and a distraction for the board when they should be looking at strategy. (National peak body)

Economic impacts of lack of funding security and short contracts:

Length of contracts and tenure of contract, and therefore tenure of employment…tend to destabilise the workforce, which is a shame. This is a great area for potential economic stimulus in terms of a greying workforce and creating opportunities for people. (National peak body)

The NGO sector could be a great and rapid workforce development stimulator. Certainly, in the care industries; aged care and in disability care and…sub-sections of mental health care. There’s great opportunities for a couple of hundred thousand jobs to be quickly created. And it’s great work as well, too, because you really are investing back into the capacity building of people in our society. (National peak body)

The report was supported through a partnership with Bendigo Bank, whose commitment to strong communities has seen over $251 million invested in local communities since 1998.

Read the report at: https://www.acoss.org.au/australian-community-sector-survey/

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