Holden does it again: how the subsidy king fills its coffers with taxpayer cash

Holden does it again: how the subsidy king fills its coffers with taxpayer cash

You’ve got hand it to General Motors, the makers of Holden. Their success in garnering taxpayer dollars is breathtaking. Their latest score announced today – $275 million from the Australian, Victorian and South Australian governments – will keep the company’s Adelaide assembly plant going for the next decade.

Australian car makers are experts at getting subsidies and grants from governments. And so they should be.

Increasingly, company boards are insisting that their executives dip their snouts in the public trough if they are entitled to do so, says Adrian Spencer, the chief executive of GrantReady, a consulting company that helps companies find and apply for government grants.

“There are 650 grant programs,” Spencer says. “Boards are seeing it as a governance issue because government grants are just another income stream. They are asking management to map out funding options available to them.”

To keep the board happy, and help yourself to government funds:

  1. Align yourself with government policies and objectives. The government is trying to achieve certain goals. In Holden’s case, it prevents job losses, and creates smart jobs, using the government’s largess. “If you and your company can assist governments to achieve their goals, and demonstrate a strong need for funds, the case for funding is strong,” Spencer says.
  2. Governments fund projects – not companies. Don’t ask for money for the day-to-day; ask for money to do a project that will help your business.
  3. Create jobs. A big employer has a stronger case, however all companies that argue they are creating employment have a strong case. Explain what your taxpayer-funded project will deliver to the community and the economy.
  4. In arguing the value of the project, look at the financial “eco-system” around your business. “We had a client that commissioned a research organisation to measure the benefits from their $200,000 grant; it tipped $5 million back into the local economy,” Spencer says.
  5. Report back to the government on the benefits of funding. Too many companies take the money and provide only the statutory reports required. What a waste! Demonstrating great results to the government funder creates a relationship. More money next time.
  6. Make sure your industry body is lobbying hard in at every level of government on your behalf. Ring up the chief executive if they are not.
  7. Target the right money. With 650 programs at local, state and national level, there is an art to choosing the right one, and applying for the wrong one is a waste of money and effort. “It’s a matter of thinking quite specifically about what you are looking for,” Spencer says.
  8. Don’t expect the government to hand out money outside its programs. In Holden’s case, the federal government’s contribution of $215 million comes from the $5.4 billion New Car Plan for a Greener Future. “Organisations often think they can rock up to government and ask for a discretionary grant. That is very rare. They process takes a lot of time, and most companies will be disappointed. Go through the grant system.” Spencer says.
  9. Back your own great ideas. Like any good investor, the government wants companies that it supports to share the pain of possible failure. Holden has promised to invest more than $1 billion into car making in Australia and to make two “next-generation” vehicles.
  10. Put your company in a global context. Car makers are very good at explaining what other countries will pay to win their business. Be ready to go if the government doesn’t care (Holden is). After all, for some sectors and companies, other countries offer better deals.
  11. Be humble. Spencer says companies sometimes feel they “deserve” government money. Put aside feelings of entitlement and be grateful for anything from taxpayer coffers. It might provide just the competitive edge your company needs.

Source: GrantReady and LeadingCompany

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