Many of Winnipeg's inner-city groups are plagued with uncertainty over future funding and say they're not getting clear direction or communication from the province, according to a new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The latest edition of the think tank's annual State of the Inner City report says inner-city groups are spending "precious resources" proving to the province they're worth funding, with no guarantees they will see money down the road.

"This 'value for money' review has led to several community-based programs experiencing funding cuts, with others concerned that more cuts are coming," the report states.

"Further, the Manitoba government has stated that projects approved by the previous [NDP] government need to be 'of good value.'… There exists, however, a lack of clarity amongst community partners about what 'good value' constitutes and how it will be measured," the report says.

It says that results in groups "scrambling to document everything they possibly can in anticipation of the review in order to prove their value" — something the report calls "a waste of precious resources."

Kate Kehler of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg said she has heard the same stories from the groups that the SPCW works with. "There is a great deal of uncertainty … people really were left in limbo around what the government's priorities were going to be and how that would affect their existing programs." 

This doesn't mean that groups shouldn't be accountable, though, said report author Ellen Smirl, community researcher with the CCPA.

"Not at all. A lot of groups are happy to be accountable to their funders," she said.

"A lot of them do more reporting than is required of them because they feel like it is really important to convey … some of the harder-to-measure things coming out of their programs but is really, really, really important."

The province needs to continue to re-evaluate its review process to make sure it is fully capturing the impact programs and groups have on their surrounding communities — even if that's hard to measure, Smirl said.

"This has been a long-running conversation with community groups," she said. "They want to make sure that their programming is effective."

The issue of effective communication is one the provincial government is aware of, said Municipal Relations Minister Jeff Wharton.

"We've been in communication, and of course, appreciate that my predecessor [former municipal relations minister Eileen] Clarke as well has been in communication [with inner-city groups] … we've continued that process and we're proud of that."

Ellen Smirl

Ellen Smirl of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Manitoba chapter, at the State of the Inner City Report launch Wednesday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

About $2.6 million in funding for community-development projects was announced Monday, he added, which will flow through grants from the Community Places, Partner 4 Growth, Hometown Manitoba and Neighbourhoods Alive programs.

"We definitely support community-development programs."

The provincial government has also been clear that all programs and departments are under review, he added.

"We've been clear that we're going through all our funding models, as we go forward. We're doing it in education, we're doing it in heath, we're doing it in every department," Wharton said.

"The government is accountable to the taxpayer. And of course, we need to ensure that every dollar spent obviously has value to it. And I know community organizations, Manitoba's in general, respect that."

'Doing work that needs to be done': CCPA

"Community-based organizations in Winnipeg are already producing tremendous value," said Smirl.

"They're doing work that needs to be done. Government needs to support that. They can't be expected to fix these complicated problems over a short period.

"Government can't provide that programming for less. They just can't."

Among other things, the CCPA report recommends the province invest in long-term and stable funding to allow groups to plan for the future and be more efficient.

Kehler agreed.

"People need to be able to rely on their funding," she said. "They do need to be able to pay staff. And that uncertainty around your employment, that doesn't necessarily lead to layoffs, it means that people actually start looking for other jobs and they quit. It makes retaining staff really difficult, which of course affects the effectiveness of the program."

It also says the province should improve communication regarding funding and collaboration between government and community organizations so organizations can plan better, and should make sure funding for groups includes money for self-evaluation and reporting to government.

The report is being launched at Thunderbird House Wednesday at noon along with a panel discussion. The launch is open to the public.

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