Hornsby Council to pay back $36 million in unspent Stronger Communities grant


The NSW Government is ordering Hornsby Shire Council to repay $36 million that was provided under the Stronger Communities Fund, a fund that the Auditor General of NSW has described as “deficient” and “lacking integrity”.

The grant program was established in 2017 to support council amalgamations.

However, under the former government, 96% of grants were awarded to Coalition electorates, including to councils that never actually merged, like Hornsby Shire Council.

As part of this fund, in 2018, the former government awarded a $40 million grant in Round 2 of the Stronger Communities Fund for Hornsby Shire Council’s Westleigh Park project.

Since then, there have been significant delays in the delivery of the project and limited progress has been demonstrated, with most of the grant money yet to be spent.

The NSW Government has therefore refused a request from Hornsby Council for an extension of time to utilise the unspent funds.

The Council will be required to pay back all unspent funds from the original $40 million grant, estimated to be more $36 million based on the latest report from Council.

This decision is based on recommendations from an independent inter-agency panel that assessed all council applications for variations to projects funded through the Liberal-Nationals Stronger Communities Fund.

The Office of Local Government received 16 applications for variations from 10 councils.

Of these, 12 have been approved. These councils asking for extensions of time have demonstrated that their projects are on-track.

Three requests were refused, including Hornsby’s request regarding the Westleigh Park project.

The other two refusals included Federation Council, which requested permission to reallocate $83,889 remaining from a grant of $5.4 million to other projects, which is not permitted under the grant guidelines.

Edward River Council also had a request to reallocate $10,000 in funding refused.

A separate request from Hornsby Council for an extension of time to utilise a $50 million grant provided for its Hornsby Quarry project has been approved as construction has progressed significantly.

Additionally, a request from Snowy Monaro Council regarding the delivery of a community centre funded by a grant of $200,000 will be reviewed further.

Murray River Council also offered to voluntarily repay $131,147 in unspent funds from an almost $1.2 million grant it received in 2018.

Quotes attributable to Minister for Local Government, Ron Hoenig:

“The former Liberal-National government’s Stronger Communities Fund has been exposed as one of the most egregious examples of pork barrelling.

“The fund was originally established to support councils which had been forcibly merged by the former government, yet Hornsby Shire Council received $90 million despite not being one of the amalgamated councils.

“At a time when we are facing a cost-of-living crisis, every dollar counts.

“Hornsby Council has had years to utilise this funding and the original deadline written into the grant guidelines has long passed.

“Where councils have not demonstrated sufficient progress on projects that received grant funding, the government will be recouping this money and ensuring it is reinvested where it’s needed most.”

/Public Release. View in full here.