Anyone who has been reading our newsletters or attended a Brigade briefing over the past few years will be well aware the hard working team at the Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades (AVBFB) has been tirelessly trying to improve the perception of, and access to, Emergency Services Levy (ESL) grant funding for Local Governments and Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades.
During that time we’ve kicked some goals including getting a review of the ESL by the Economic Regulation Authority (ERA) and prompting the Premier and Minister to publicly accept that greater transparency and independence of the grant decision-making process is required.
While we still have a very long way to go, we are pleased to report that the President and Executive Officer spent another three hours with senior DFES staff today with whom we found agreement on a number of very positive proposed changes.
It is important to note that other stakeholders – including WALGA – haven’t yet signed off on everything we’ve been pushing for, but the meeting certainly gave us confidence that the years we have spent urging reform will soon deliver positive results for our members and local governments.
There are a lot of issues on the table but perhaps one of the biggest ones we hope might be enacted before next year’s ESL manual is published is the removal of the “eligible items” list.
We have long argued in support of a list detailing items that must not be purchased using ESL, but found that many perfectly reasonable grant requests are blocked by someone in the administrative chain because whatever the Brigade needs is not on the so-called “eligible items” list. To the credit of the DFES Staff we have been working with, it is openly accepted that the current eligible items list was only ever intended to provide examples of things that can be purchased using ESL – and not to be used to restrict grant applications as it has been used by some.
A number of other issues have also been addressed in the proposed draft of the next ESL Manual but as we acknowledged earlier, there are other stakeholders who have not yet signed off on it, so there is still a way to go before we count our chickens. However, it is pleasing to report that the DFES staff we’ve been working with on this for a number of years have remained open, consultative and productive – thank you Mike and the team.