City of Newcastle addresses government grant disadvantage in inquiry submission

26 Aug 2020

The Newcastle Local Government Area (LGA) has been shut out of more than $170 million in government grants in just one year because of inconsistent funding rules. 

City of Newcastle Lord Mayor Cr Nuatali Nelmes said the disparity in Newcastle’s eligibility for funding, which is based on an inconsistent classification of the City as being either regional or metropolitan depending on the funding program, is a significant disadvantage that must be addressed. 

“Our City often falls between the gaps of policy development and grant funding as Newcastle is a metropolitan centre that services regional populations across the Hunter,” she said. 

“Newcastle is the major economic hub of the Hunter region with gross regional product of $17.7 billion, yet we are not receiving fair access to State Government funding.”

According to an independent report by the Hunter Research Foundation Centre, six regional funding sources totalling $5.86 billion have been identified where Newcastle has been deemed ineligible, but no metropolitan alternative has been provided.

“For comparison, neighbouring equivalent sized councils in the Lake Macquarie and Central Coast LGAs were eligible for all six funding sources,” Cr Nelmes said when introducing a Lord Mayoral Minute, which was supported at last night’s Ordinary Council meeting.

“Furthermore, the Newcastle LGA has received just 0.06 per cent of Restart NSW funds allocated to date, well below its 2.11 per cent share of the state’s population and its three per cent share of Gross State Product. 

“Newcastle is ineligible to access the Regional Cultural Fund, as it is defined as ‘metropolitan’, but there is no equivalent opportunity within metropolitan funding rounds. 

“Newcastle is effectively shut out of all NSW cultural infrastructure grants.”

In a submission to the Public Accountability Committee’s inquiry into the integrity, efficacy and value for money of NSW Government grant programs, City of Newcastle has recommended the Committee create a Gateway City classification.

This would recognise that LGAs like Newcastle and Wollongong are major regional economic centres that sit between a metropolitan and regional classification.

“The historical metropolitan versus regional dichotomy no longer reflects Newcastle’s transformation as a major regional economic centre,” Cr Nelmes said. 

“Australian Gateway Cities hold a significant place in the economy but are underestimated in terms of public policy. 

“In partnership with Wollongong and Geelong, City of Newcastle has established a Gateway Cities Alliance to advocate and collectively explore economic opportunities.

“It’s crucial that governments are willing and able to make the necessary long-term strategic investments in both physical and social infrastructure that will underpin not just regional growth but national interests.

“Fairer access to funding opportunities would also improve the efficiency and value for money of government grant programs.”