SA NDIS Readiness Grants: Winner Beware

While South Australia is undoubtedly leading the country in NDIS experience for families with Early Childhood Early Intervention needs, there is a distinct disparity in preparedness for Disability Service Providers (DSPs) across the rest of the sector.

In response, the South Australian government has recently put out a tender for consultancy services that will provide 110 South Australian DSPs with NDIS transition assistance.

The grants will assist both large and small government and non-government service providers who need to make significant changes to their business model to survive. In these cases, a consultant will work with grant recipients to:

  • Identify gaps or shortfalls in their capacity to function effectively in the NDIS environment.

  • Develop a new business model, with an action plan to successfully transition them.

  • Mentor the service provider in operationalising their action plan or business model.

  • Assist, where applicable, the service provider in implementing their action plan.

There is no doubt that NDIS transition represents a major risk for service providers. The move from self-reporting and guaranteed block grant funding in advance, to a consumer driven model where service providers claim payments in arrears from the NDIA, or the person self-managing their funds, presents massive risks to provider sustainability.

The successful tenderer will provide one-on-one business support to help DSPs function in a competitive NDIS environment. The project is intended to reduce the risk of market failure and encourage diversity of services, which is particularly important for regional areas of South Australia.

On the face of it, the South Australian Government’s NDIS transition project appears to be a sound move. It’s certainly a more generous and community-minded gesture than we have seen in most of the other states.

However as experts in NDIS transition, DSC has reservations about how effective this program will be in solving these problems. These grants are certainly not a panacea to every DSPs NDIS woes.

This is primarily due to the government’s approach, which doesn’t seem to account for the incredible diversity of need across the sector, the understanding of which hasn’t been increased by a narrow focus in the early transition site.

Currently, children aged between 0-14 years are the only people able to access the scheme, with approximately 48% of all participants stating their primary disability as Autism and related disorders. This means the mix of supports currently provided under the NDIS skew heavily towards young children with autism, which is not representative the true diversity of the disability market at full scheme roll out. Providers who don’t offer services in the ECEI space have limited knowledge of operating within an NDIS context, meaning only a select group of providers have reaped the benefits of an early transition.

South Australia also has a unique geographic environment with participant density varying considerably across service regions. While metropolitan Adelaide has high participant density with most regions having 1000 participants per 100KM, outside metropolitan Adelaide, regions are characterised by very low participant density, most with 10 or less participants per 100Km. This geographic spread, low population density and limited infrastructure to deliver services means offering financially sustainable services is a challenge.

While the South Australian government has done the right thing in responding to the lack of NDIS readiness, underpinned by issues like these, their approach is problematic to say the least.

In order for any consultant to deliver these services within the government value for money constraints, they must provide a somewhat cookie-cutter approach to assisting service providers. Cookie-cutter business models do not properly acknowledge the complexities of the market environment, or the unique strengths and weaknesses of each organisation. Not only that, cookie-cutter models pay no attention to consumer need and potentially place providers at increased risk of competitive disadvantage.

It’s also not as simple as just giving someone a business plan and saying go. Even for providers with the deepest pockets and strongest capabilities, execution of any business plan is a challenge. These grants are designed for providers who have the greatest need for assistance meaning deep pockets and broad organisational capabilities are unlikely to be present.

While the South Australian government will provide small additional grants to assist with these needs, it’s unlikely every provider will get the full amount of support they need. The grants do not put due attention on capacity building, providing incentive for organisations to develop their own business models and identify for themselves what their organisation needs to invest in for success. It completely removes choice and control for providers to make their own decisions about how funding is spent to ensure they access assistance that best meets their needs.

Without a deep internal understanding of the key success drivers of any given business model, and the capabilities and resources to execute, providers are at extreme risk of failure, despite the government ‘s best intentions.

If you haven’t identified the key themes here, the reason why we believe this project is destined for failure is the very reason the disability system has failed. It neglects the highly individual needs of each organisation, it removes choice and control, it does nothing to encourage the long-term capacity of organisations to function in such a perpetually complex environment. Worse, it makes the government the customer, encouraging service delivery that prioritises box ticking to collect a cheque, over the achievement of real outcomes for service providers.

Sadly, it appears the irony has escaped the South Australian government.
As NDIS transition consultants, DSC is well positioned to compete for this tender, however we feel participating in a project that takes a broken approach to the problem would compromise the integrity of our advice and also our track record of success with clients.

The good news is that unlike many people with a disability, with greater forewarning of the limitations of this project providers can do something to change the outcome of these circumstances.

We advise providers considering these grants to pre-plan to ensure they’re able to drive the agenda and maximise the value they receive from the consultants should they become a grant recipient. Our 8 steps framework can assist you to ask yourself the right questions to identify gaps and strengths. This will help you to work collaboratively with the consultants, ensuring when the consultancy budget has run out, you’re are not left high and dry with plan that is unworkable for your organisation. You will be better able to deal with the inevitable challenges that come with rolling out business plans.

In a $22bn dollar sector, we believe there is more than enough room for everyone to have a successful business within the NDIS, the trick is to make sure you don’t fall for the false sense of security these consultants may bring, abdicating your responsibility to become an NDIS expert in your own right. Use your local knowledge and networks, leverage your strengths, and ensure your entire organisation is involved in NDIS planning and transition.