I’ve had multiple conversations this week with council staff who are feeling overwhelmed. Many conflicting issues: the transition back into the workplace, kids going back to school, the demands of the community in recovery, coming up to the end of the financial year, the continuous announcements on funding and the relentless media.
This blog is about funding thus I will not stray into broader advice on support, which is available through council internal process. Make sure you get every possible support you can, as your survival is critical for you, your family and your community.
On grants, our suggestion is that you should think about turning the funding process upside down, to be driven by you and the projects, not the announcements. What this means is that your focus is on preparing projects and when you are ready then start the process of looking for funding. Another way of saying this is turn the noise off until you need it. When you have a project ready that you need the funding for, then you can turn the noise back on again.
You may think that you could miss out on opportunities by taking this approach. The reality is that if you are applying for funding with a project that is not ready, and you end up being successful, you potentially create a stressful situation for yourself with delivery. When successful in the current times, you need to have the shovels in the ground immediately.
Q: What are jobs?
This sounds like a strange question but it relates to the previous question and a very recent trend in grants. With so many announcements like ‘The Tasmanian Government’s $3.1 billion infrastructure package will stimulate investment in the private sector, strengthen the economy and create thousands of jobs’ the question is what does jobs mean?
The answer is in two parts. The first part is that most of the big announcements such as in Tasmania are for State infrastructure projects that have been on the books for a while. The project timeframes are long and the jobs will be significant, but they may not start immediately. Jobs are longer term.
The second part is the notable trend in grant programs for local government. This is the move to smaller but immediate start jobs. While some larger projects are still part of the mix, smaller infrastructure projects where you can be successful, sign an immediate funding deed, and start in 2 weeks, are increasingly greater part of the mix. Variety is the key to your mix of funding ready projects.
Q: Do the Australian and State Governments talk to each other about your grant application?
A: Yes, but usually only one way. There is an increasing trend for the Australian Government to seek the view of State and Territory Governments for infrastructure projects. Some Australian Government applications even have provision for the State Government approval of the project as part of the form.
What that means is that you need to have your state or territory government fully aware of your project, preferably with their agreement. Even better is if the State Government is contributing a percentage of the project cost. This is not just road projects but across all projects from infrastructure to arts to natural resource management.
One of a number of reasons for this approach is that the Australian Government is constantly treading a fine line on constitutional responsibility for spending in many areas and this is one way of limiting potential high court cases.
Far less common is for the State Governments to ask the view of the Australian Government about your application. This would only happen if there were environmental or other approvals required, or if they were confirming promises of Australian Government contributions. In both cases you should have been in touch with the Australian Government prior to submission of your state or territory government application, so there should be no surprises.
Q: How do we make our applications for funding stand out when every council in Australia is dealing with the same issues?
A: In the now hundreds of grants and funding workshops Section51 has run over 10 years we included a session on how to make your council be different. The illustration we used was that just about every rural council across Australia could say that their population is aging and the youth were leaving. You may feel that is unique to you, but it isn’t and thus using this argument to obtain funding is the same for many hundreds of councils. Now we have COVOD-19 the impact is not only across every council throughout Australia, but international as well. To apply for funding, just on the basis that you have been impacted by COVID-19 does not make you unique.
What is unique is your community and your locality. Every town and every local government area in Australia have one or more special things about it that no one else has. Call it the ‘Vibe’ maybe. Yet councils tend to hide what is special behind problems that are the same as the rest of Australia. Don’t use bland words like ‘small business is struggling’ or ‘you are providing jobs’ as everyone can say the same thing. You are special and unique so don’t hide it, instead tell your story. It might be the very qualities that bought you to the area in the first place, and why you decided to work at the Council. It might be the history, the landscape, your relationships with the community, or all of these. Think long and hard about what makes you stand out from other Councils and include that in your next application.
Q: How do we manage the uncertainty with small business in our CBD?
A: We were contacted last week by a council who asked about funding for CBD improvements to help small business in their main street. This led to discussion on uncertainty on how recovery will play out for their CBD with people working from home more, will they return to the offices and shop locally and much more. Funding took a back seat to the broader discussion on the future of CBD’s, probably as Colin is a town planner by profession.
The answer is that while words like ‘unprecedent’ and ‘uncharted waters’ are constantly used in the COVID 19 world of today. While there are no doubts of the world scale impact of the pandemic, there are extensive examples of ‘shock’ to a community, CBD’s and main streets through history. Major industry closure, environmental disaster, highway bypass and the list could go on. The impact cannot be underestimated, and sadly you will lose some business from the main street and there will be change. But it has happened before somewhere and in some way. The key town planning lesson, and for funding, is to focus on what is good and what will survive into the future for your community. Get the projects ready that will make a difference for the business that are looking to the future. Think about a workshop with the businesses that have survived, how you help them and all work together to move forward. Help the ones that are innovative and have new ideas and these are the type of projects to go searching for funding for. We know you are already helping those that are in difficulty, but the positive approach will make a difference for them as well. It may mean that your main street and CBD may have different needs to the past, with different type of projects, but that is the innovation you need to manage the uncertainty.
Q: What are this week’s 3x3?
3 things to do this week:
3 things to do over the next 3 weeks:
3 things to do over the next 3 months: