The Way Forward: This Morning's Highlights

Well! This morning's session of the Premier’s forum at the Rooms has just wrapped up. Lots to take in and it will definitely take some time to digest it all. In the meantime, here are a few highlights ... and a few questions (and editorialising!) to go along with them:

ZBB

Beginning in 2017, the provincial government will be moving to a zero-based budgeting process (ZBB). Clueless? Don’t worry. Here’s the Coles notes version. Under ZBB all departments within government will start the budgeting process at zero. Every function and program will be analysed and both new AND old, reoccurring expenditures will be assessed. Budgets will then be built around what is needed for the upcoming period, regardless of whether the budget is higher or lower than the previous one. Pretty straight forward ... right? Here’s where it gets interesting. As you can imagine, ZBB is a detail-oriented process. As a result, in the corporate world it’s often implemented as a rolling process involving only a few functional areas at a time. However, in this morning’s presentation, the Province’s Finance Minister announced that “decisions will be made on a year-by-year basis with no automatic assumptions”. 

Okay, so here are my first questions ...

How will ZBB impact multi-year funding like CEDP operating grants and contribution agreements that provide operating support to heritage sector associations? Will they be exempt from this process? Next, how will ZBB impact decision-making within government? In my worst nightmare, I imagine that from November to March, nothing will get done within government except ZBB. 

Since ZBB will require departments to justify all budget requests and expenditures, performance measures will become super important. Programs that produce measurable impacts and outcomes will continue to receive financial support, while those that don’t end up on the chopping block. On the surface, that makes a lot of sense ... right? Maybe. 

Under this approach, justifying funding for programs that generate direct revenues or produce tangible end products is fairly straightforward. But what about sectors (like heritage) in which many of the key outcomes are intangible and/or difficult to quantify? I’m not saying our sector shouldn’t become more accountable. We absolutely, positively need to do a better job of collecting, analyzing, and sharing data about the work we do and its impact on our publics. And perhaps this is the wake-up call our sector needs to start taking data collection and data-driven decision making seriously. However, I am concerned that success in our sector will be reduced to numbers of non-resident visitors and earned revenue ... indicators that do not reflect the value of much of the work we do and are biased against heritage organizations and activities located beyond the overpass or outside key tourist destinations. This puts a whole new spin on Friday’s CEDP roundtable. Oy vey!

Moving Day

The Provincial Government is committed to making better use of its real estate assets. This includes an immediate reduction of government leased operating space effective immediately. No big surprise here. A lot of us have seen this one coming and for most of us, it won’t have any impact.

However…. 

How will efforts to reduce government rental expenses impact MANL, ANLA and the NHS who, after their eviction from the Colonial Building, were moved to privately owned office space paid for by BTCRD? Will this arrangement continue? This is a real issue for these organizations as rent is a major line item in their annual budgets. 

Priority Potholes

According to this morning’s presentation, tourism needs will become a key driver in infrastructure decisions. Simply put, maintenance of roads to and through key tourism destinations will receive priority when it comes to infrastucture funding. 

KLUNK!

That was the sound my head made as I smacked it against my keyboard in response to this next zinger. The province is launching a new Tourism Product Development Plan that will build on core experiences categories - food, crafts, geology and aboriginal tourism. Anyone who has submitted a funding application to BTCRD in the last six months (and received a reply something along the lines of “we are focusing on experiential tourism”) would have seen this one coming. And anyone who attended any of the DDP planning sessions will know where those experience categories came from. But really? How the heck is a focus on new tourism products going to strengthen community-based heritage ... particularly the anchor attractions? I’m sure someone in BTCRD will argue that new, quality products will increase visitation, drive revenues and lead to sustainability. To which I could launch into a detailed explanation of the differences between nonprofit and for-profit business models and the central role of community capacity in nonprofit sustainability, but I’ll spare you all that rant for today. 

Blueprint 2017?

The Provincial Government has committed to updating the Province’s Cultural Plan. In 2015, AHI developed a research and discussion paper for the Province’s Heritage Division on emerging trends in the cultural sector. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting excepts of that report on AHI’s website. If there are any heritage keener’s out there who are interested in prepping for upcoming Cutlrual Plan discussions by reading the full report, please give me a shout.