1 Oct 2019

Whānau Ora funds distribution sparks 'crisis of confidence' in minister

10:30 am on 1 October 2019

Whānau Ora leaders are challenging their minister, Peeni Henare, over where an $80 million funding boost is going.

Peeni Henare

Whānau Ora Minister Peeni Henare. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The Commissioning Agencies, who pay for Whānau Ora services, say too much of that money is going to government departments and not them.

The government announced the major funding increase for Whānau Ora over four years at the Budget in May.

It was a massive win for the three Commissioning Agencies, who had gone without a funding boost in 2018 and were put under review instead.

However, North Island commissioning agency chair Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said they were extremely disappointed with their cut of the funding increase.

"We were stunned, we were absolutely stunned. My provider partners were stunned, my board," she said.

Ms Raukawa-Tait said they would be unable to meet their demand with the $5m increase they had secured.

Merepeka Raukawa-Tait

Merepeka Raukawa-Tait. Photo: Supplied

She said she was also concerned to discover that Te Puni Kōkiri, the Department of Corrections and the Ministry of Social Development were all getting a cut of the new Whānau Ora funding.

She said those government departments did not have a great track record for delivering for Māori.

"There is a crisis in confidence of our minister through this," she said.

"You cannot say to people 'work your guts out, do the best you can,' and not provide us with the resources to do the job that we have to do."

In February, a review into Whānau Ora reinforced that the social development and well-being approach was working well and it needed more funding.

South Island agency Te Pūtahitanga's chair Helen Leahy said the new money has been spread thinly across the three agencies.

She said it appears to be focused on the North Island - with new Whānau Ora initiatives planned in two North Island prisons - and on government.

"That's been a difficult message to say to our whānau when we have received $2m out of the $80m," she said.

"How do we explain the inequity in what appears to be a focus on government more than a focus on whānau."

Minister Peeni Henare responded by saying their claims were "mistruths being spread around".

In a breakdown provided by the minister, just over $12.5m of the $80m will go to Te Puni Kōkiri for administration and research over four years.

Mr Henare said Whānau Ora spending on a new initiative with Corrections did not come out of that pool of money, and was a joint bid with the other agencies.

"No departments are getting pūtea out of the $80m - there is some departmental expenditure increase that is natural when you get a significant increase in funding," he said.

"Any claim or assertion that the money is going back into the middle is just false."

The three commissioning agencies got increases of just over $10m between them for the first year.

Mr Henare said the allocation has only been set for the first year and their next contracts would have to be renegotiated with Te Puni Kōkiri.

He said the remainder of the funding was there to pay for Whānau Ora services, but not necessarily through the current agencies.

"While the commissioning agencies do great work - let's be clear - they are not Whānau Ora as a kaupapa," he said.

"I've made it quite clear to them that while I applaud the work they do, and the review highlights that, that we want to grow this kaupapa moving forward and that involves government agencies, communities and whānau."

The minister is considering localised commissioning options and getting the money directly into communities.

The chief executive of commissioning agency Pasifika Futures, Debbie Sorensen, said the funding boost reinforced the good work the commissioning agencies were doing.

She said their increase was also not enough to meet demand for the 81,000 Pacific people they support.

However, she's backing the minister and said this is a good start.

"We wanted the ability to do more," she said.

"From our perspective, being disappointed isn't helpful in our context. We just look forward to being able to see more Whānau Ora money coming through in subsequent budgets."

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