Brigade to pay back money

JIMMY ELLINGHAM
Last updated 12:00 19/02/2013

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The Feilding Volunteer Fire Brigade has been ordered to pay money back to the Department of Internal Affairs, after an investigation revealed the brigade provided incorrect information on a funding application.

It raised money to send a team to the World Rescue Challenge Championships in London last year but questions were raised about the fundraising by a former member of the brigade, who said it received more money than it needed.

That prompted the Internal Affairs probe, which looked at the brigade's application to the lottery minister's discretionary fund that the department oversees.

The brigade received $8730 from the fund but has now been asked to pay it back.

It is understood the application failed to disclose other sources of funding or its cash on hand.

"The department has determined that the brigade provided incorrect information in its application," an Internal Affairs spokesman said.

"As is usual in these cases, no further funding from other department grant schemes will be available to the [Feilding brigade] until the current issue is resolved."

Documents seen by the Manawatu Standard show that about the time the brigade received the discretionary fund money, it was also to receive $12,231 from the NZ Fire Service for "airfares, accommodation and expenses".

Guidelines about the fund, issued by the department, say money is available to volunteer brigades unable to get funding from the National Rural Fire Authority or the NZ Fire Service. Financial statements to the end of March last year show the brigade's bank balance was $38,636.

The Internal Affairs spokesman said the department had also "received information" about the Feilding brigade and its status as a charitable entity.

"The department is assessing the information and if there is cause for concern we will take further steps."

The NZ Fire Service also investigated the brigade's finances and cleared it of any wrongdoing.

Regional manager Ian Pickard said the service would be taking no further action against the brigade over the money to be repaid, as it was a matter between the brigade and Internal Affairs.

He was satisfied there was no "malicious intent" in the brigade's actions. New guidelines were being developed. These would give volunteer brigades a better understanding of what is required when filling out funding applications, Mr Pickard said.

"The tenor is make sure you get some advice on what you're applying for and make sure you get some details. Make sure you disclose all information," he said.

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"I just want to get this fire brigade back in the community and recognised for the great work they do and not for failing to fill out a form correctly." A statement from the Fire Service added that the internal audit picked up areas where "financial management could be tightened up so that processes and decision-making were more transparent".

Feilding chief fire officer Peter Guard said in a statement: "We accept we made a mistake and will repay the grant immediately."

The brigade accepted the advice of the Fire Service audit team and changes had been made.

Other sources of funding for the trip included Manawatu District Council, which gave $2300 for airfares, and a raffle.

The council did not respond to questions.

- Manawatu Standard

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