Grants to external organisations are a significant and growing part of the council’s annual budget.
In the coming year over $2 million will be paid to organisations in the district to provide services for our community.
This is around 3 per cent of council’s total expenditure for the year.
The lion’s share of funding is provided to organisations to provide services on council’s behalf – what we often refer to as council-funded agencies.
This includes operational expenditure grants to Grow Mid Canterbury ($245,630 to provide economic development services), Experience Mid Canterbury ($386,632 to market our district as a visitor destination), Ashburton Performing Arts Theatre Trust ($263,743 to run the Ashburton Trust Event Centre), Safer Ashburton District ($146,000 to provide a range of social and community services), Ashburton Community Pool ($288,300), Ashburton Art Gallery ($233,341) and the Ashburton Museum ($195,913).
These grants come with performance requirements.
Organisations must report to the council every six months on their activities and achievement of performance measures.
A couple of years ago the council undertook a review of these organisations to ensure the community got the best value for money in terms of the services provided and the way they were structured.
This review led to Experience Mid Canterbury becoming a council-controlled organisation with a council-appointed board and statutory planning and reporting requirements put in place.
Over the years this council has seen advantages in having services provided by community organisations to ensure a level of wider community input and encourage community ownership of issues.
This is a model that has worked well for the community in the past, but it can’t be assumed it will continue this way forever.
In some cases, it may be that the council is better placed to provide the services itself. The current debate around the provision of museum services is a good example of this. The museum’s operations may grow in scale and complexity with the new Ashburton Art Gallery and Heritage Centre.
The museum board has confirmed it would like to merge and become a department of the council.
This would enable a range of skills and resources within council to be used to ensure the museum continues to deliver quality services to our district.
The council will make a decision on this matter at its meeting on August 7. This type of re-evaluation is aimed at getting the best possible value for residents.
In addition to council-funded agency grants, the council provides funding assistance to a range of organisations in the district to help them provide services to the community.
These grants are smaller in value and are made as donations, with no reporting requirements.
Included here are grants to Sport Mid Canterbury ($52,000), Methven Pool ($14,350), Tinwald Pool ($15,000), Methven and Rakaia libraries ($11,000), Base Youth Café ($13,000), Hype Youth Health Centre ($7560), and Community House Mid Canterbury ($30,000).
This year, as a result of submissions made to the draft annual plan, the council decided to include new grants to the Ashburton Budget Advisory Service ($4500) and Hakatere Marae Komiti ($7300).
Council also has contestable grant schemes where organisations can apply for one-off grant funding for particular projects.
These are for community projects ($50,000 available), school holiday programmes ($5000), biodiversity projects ($15,000) and heritage projects.
The council’s approach to grant funding has evolved over many years with many additions and alterations along the way.
The council considers its grant funding each time it prepares a long-term plan, looking at what should be provided and who should provide it.
Over the next six months a new long-term plan will be prepared covering the years 2015-25.
This will be an opportunity for council to again critically evaluate the funding it provides and to test the reasons for providing that funding.
At a time when the Government is calling for councils to focus on core business, but where the Government doesn’t necessarily provide the funding communities believe they need to maintain all the services they want, this will make for an interesting debate and some tough decisions for councillors.