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Small business hardship grants "performed effectively": Auditor-General

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The Tasmanian Government's controversial $26 million coronavirus hardship grants have been given the 'all clear' by the state's Auditor-General. 

Mr Rod Whitehead has submitted his Report to Parliament on the development and implementation of the program which was adminstered by the Department of State Growth. 

Thousands of businesses put their hands up for assistance when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

They could get up to $15,000, but a many raised concerns about disparities in the system, with some businesses getting close to the full $15k and others in similar circumstances getting $4,000.

There were also claims extra eligibility rules were added later on, leading to an apology by Small Business Minister Sarah Courtney and reassessment of many applications.

"The implementation and management of the Small Business Hardship Grant Program as measured against the audit criteria was, in all material respects, performed effectively," Mr Whitehead concluded.

"Within the context of a Program that needed to be developed quickly, the application process was appropriately designed and risks generally identified and managed. Applications were generally assessed consistently and payments to small business were for the most part equitable and timely. The overall objective of getting hardship grants to small businesses quickly was achieved."

However the report did find applications from the dental industry were not consistently assessed, while communication regarding how applications were assessed against eligibility criteria and for those applicants that were ineligible "could have been better".

Later last year, Premier Peter Gutwein lashed out at some in the media for calling on the names of recipients to be made public on the basis of transparency for taxpayers.

"Due to the need for the prompt distribution of grant funds the Program could not be a truly competitive one but there was no bias of grants paid in terms of geographical location or business type," Mr Whitehead said.

Four recommendations have been made to State Growth:

1. Deploy improved web-based system functionality to increase automation, reduce the risk of human error and decrease the burden of moderation.

2. Introduce more detailed and timely communication to applicants who were unsuccessful, ineligible or whose applications were being reassessed.

3. Publicise changes to assessment guidelines to better inform applicants.

4. Check eligibility criteria during the design phase and clearly communicate changes to, or clarification of, eligibility criteria to ensure all grant applications are fairly and consistently assessed.

Tags: coronavirus