11 Apr 2017

MSD accused of making Whānau Ora agency do its dirty work

7:19 am on 11 April 2017

An agency that distributes Whānau Ora money has accused the Ministry of Social Development of forcing it to do its dirty work and cut millions of dollars' of contracts aimed at helping at-risk families.

05072016 Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King. Ministry of Social Development on Willis Street in Wellington.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The agency, Te Pou Matakana, said the ministry dumped 23 contracts on it, knowing they would have to be cancelled. But the minister Anne Tolley said the claims were ridiculous.

The contracts are worth almost $5 million in total.

One funds a programme for more than 1000 families run by the Great Potentials Foundation.

Founder Dame Lesley Max said without the $400,000 contract, help for families in Papakura, Opotiki and Huntly would stop.

The foundation has had contracts with the Ministry of Social Development since 1994, but that will no longer be the case from July, she said.

"That means we're facing the necessity to lay off staff and shut our doors.

"That means the people who come to us who have a range of problems, complex and multiple problems, will not have a friendly effective, trusted service to come to."

The Great Potentials contract with the ministry was one of 23 transferred last May to Te Pou Matakana which distributes Whānau Ora money.

At the time, Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said they were a good fit with the Whānau Ora approach.

John Tamihere

John Tamihere said the money from the transferred contracts was needed to fund existing programmes. Photo: Supplied

Te Pou Matakana chief executive, John Tamihere, said the ministry would not tell him how the contracts selected for transfer to Whānau Ora were selected or why they were considered a good fit.

"I've asked them where is it, why is the money being funded to these groups, and what are we getting in our community?

"They don't have any investment, knowledge, or strategy, They've just been funding willy nilly."

The money from the transferred contracts was needed to fund existing, established programmes that they knew achieved Whānau Ora's goals, Mr Tamihere said.

Anne Tolley

Anne Tolley said Mr Tamihere's claims were "ridiculous". Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

"They set us up for a fight with [23] provider groups, where we cancel the contracts, not MSD."

Ms Tolley said Mr Tamihere's claims were "ridiculous".

And in fact, she would have liked to see some of the 23 picked up.

"I think it's one of the frustrations that some of us might have, that with Whānau Ora, the decisions about what they pick up and what they don't are at an arms length from minister.

"Regardless of that, [the contracts] were handed over in good faith."

Whānau Ora Minister Te Ururoa Flavell acknowledged the commissioning agencies like Te Pou Matakana were always going to fund contracts at their discretion and there would be winners and losers.

"I mean that happens all the time when contracts come and go, and that's the unfortunate consequence of it.

"So I don't deny that there will be people that might miss out, but, on the other side of the coin, there will be people who will benefit from the use of the money under a Whānau Ora commissioning model."

Dame Lesley is still hopeful the government may step in and fund her programmes. She's approached several ministers but no one has got back to her with a clear response, leaving her teams in limbo.