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Cruel blow dealt to Silverlea

Wednesday, 3rd April, 2019

By Callum Marshall

Silverlea has had a grant application for funding rejected by the government, complicating an already desperate situation for the school after it lost $210,000 in funding from the NSW Government last year.

If Silverlea can’t find the money within several months, when savings and donations from locals will have run out, the school will have to close.

With the next round of Community Grant Hub applications coming too late to help the school, Chair of the Silverlea Early Childhood Services board, Diana Ferry, said the failed application was a ‘last roll of the dice.’

“We’ve just given our last roll of the dice, the next round of grants don’t come up for another two or three months and we’ll be out of business by then,” said Ms Ferry.

“We can’t go through that application in two or three months and then wait for another three or four months for them to decide whether we get a grant or not.

“We need the money now, we are desperate and we are dying on our knees not being able to fund our service. 

“If we don’t get some emergency funding soon then we’ll be out of business, there’s no doubt about that.

“While we’re very grateful for the community rallying behind us, at the moment we’ve only raised between 10,000 and 20,000 dollars.

“That’s enough to keep us going for another two months.”

Ms Ferry said the response to the grant application was very ‘bureaucratic’, and looked at the service in a much different way to how it actually ran.

She said Silverlea was told it ‘couldn’t demonstrate value for money’, ‘couldn’t demonstrate corporate governance structures and risk management practices’ and ‘couldn’t demonstrate whether it had the scale or ability to replicate the program and the success of it’, amongst other reasons.

“They’ve given us a very bureaucratic response full of red-tape that we would have to comply with, which might be reasonable for a large organisation but isn’t really for a small organisation that is already struggling to transition from block based funding to being self-sufficient, Ms Ferry said.

“It’s a blunt bureaucratic response that shows absolutely no understanding of the lived reality for people in the Far West and also out in the bush, especially with the compounded problem of the drought and the lack of water and the stress that’s putting on everybody.

“To say ‘we haven’t seen your risk management plan’ or ‘we’re not sure about your governance’ when we’ve been in business successfully for 58 years is profoundly insulting.

“We’re basically having to go from being a charity to being a commercially run venture overnight. That’s going to be a struggle for any organisation.

“And at the moment we’re struggling to change our business model and diversify our services enough to survive in the NDIS environment without our block funding, which we’ve only been able to replace with around $1700 per month in NDIS related funding.

“Also, we just don’t have the population base in Broken Hill to be able to survive without some form of funding security, whether that comes from government or from a private source like earnings from our savings or something like that.”

Ms Ferry said that efforts to expand the business through measures such as long day care, services for adults and helping people with disabilities get ready to enter the workforce could help keep it going, but that state and federal governments were not helping.

“We’re not been given a chance, or any support, to try those things,” she said.

“We’ve just been given a very brutal cut in funding from the state level on the assumption that the funding is now coming through the Commonwealth government and that it would be sufficient to either survive, or that small organisations would merge with other entities and survive that way.

“Merging is not an option for us, we don’t bring funding with us. We bring the expense side of the revenue. We haven’t been a money-making venture to date, and we don’t neatly fit any categories.

“Other organisations would)struggle to know how they would incorporate Silverlea into their model, but not only that but we risk destroying the things that Silverlea’s been very good at doing for many years.

“In the 58 years that we’ve survived we’ve been able to deliver services to children zero to eight years old and their families for between 1500 to 2000 people.

“This is in a tiny community and our service only covers this geographic region which is 35,000 square kilometres, a third of New South Wales.

“If we don’t have our service then the nearest services are going to be either in Mildura, three and a half hours away, Adelaide, six hours away, or Sydney, eighteen hours away.

“It’s going to be families in our disadvantaged community who would really struggle to survive let alone be able to access those services.

“At the moment, the bureaucracy is saying that they will review the pricing structure every six months or year, and we’re not going to survive for a year without assistance.”

Ms Ferry said Silverlea would also be joining a National Disability Services (NDS) campaign for the upcoming federal election to better focus NDIS resources, including with less red tape, independent pricing and more flexible, localised plans. 

“Silverlea Early Childhood Services and Silverlea Employment and Training Services are also joining hands, alongside other providers in Broken Hill, to see how we can influence some change with the NDIS to make ourselves more viable long-term,” she said.

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