Implementing an external funding strategy

Led by a bid writing expert, this project reviewed Warwick District Council's approach to how it identifies and applies for external funding. This case study forms part of our productivity experts resource.

Efficiency and income generation

A small project team was assembled to work with the expert. Together, they formulated a process which would address many of the issues faced by officers tasked with securing grants for the council. Accompanying this is a new process which will be adopted by all officers across the council and will guide and advise through the application process. 

The challenge

Warwick District Council is strongly committed to providing the very best public services for its residents and businesses. This is becoming increasingly difficult as a result of growing funding pressures. Although steps have been taken to address this, the council have recognised additional sources of funding will be needed to meet its project aspirations.

A survey was circulated to all staff which would help to identify what officers felt the main barriers were when tasked with attracting external funding.

Multiple officers reported one of the biggest challenges faced is trying to understand often complex application processes and understanding what information is required. This highlighted a lack of training amongst officers on bid writing. Any training that is within the council currently has been provided by previous employees.

Another common theme was the lack of time officers had readily available to commit to funding. The funders often stipulate short deadlines and officers do not feel they have sufficient time to properly plan and write up a project plan and bid. This could be improved by introducing additional support from a dedicated officer to assist in identifying potential funds and putting together applications.

This officer feedback reinforced the need for a clear strategy to be developed and implemented across the council. This would help to identify a transparent project development process, develop a bid preparation toolkit, provide a database of external funds, establish an evidence repository, and highlight the resources needed to support robust project bids using internal and/or external inputs.

The solution

Feedback from officers confirmed there was general agreement across council service areas of the need for an external funding strategy to be designed, resourced and implemented. With the help of the expert, the group decided what would be helpful to be included within the strategy which was agreed to be:

  • Flowchart – a visual protocol to identify the process from project idea, sourcing of suitable grant sources, preparation of a funding application, gaining internal approval, securing match funding, project delivery and reporting.
  • Funding database – providing access to external funds both through a regular monthly update of key funding opportunities by online alerts through the Information Hub, and via access to a commercial funding database.
  • Project grant register – a listing of projects with funding organisations applied to, grant requested, bid results, feedback from funders, lessons learned. This can serve as a project tracker and be used to inform key performance Indicators and create reports.
  • Information and data repository – an easy access resource base to include the council’s and other key strategy documents and bid templates along with evidence and data required for project applications.
  • Capacity building opportunity – notification of staff development opportunities (including online learning) to develop skills in project initiation, evidence gathering and bid preparation leading to increased confidence and capacity within service areas.

On completion of the project, a closing report was prepared for the council’s senior management team (SMT) which summarised the key findings and made recommendations for how it could be sustained long term.

The resource allocation was presented in a table format, detailing the benefits that could be delivered with the current level of staff or with the support of an additional officer. The work done by the expert and project team was well received. It was agreed that in order for the maximum benefit to be felt it needed a dedicated officer to manage each deliverable and ensure it was being embedded across the council.

The impact       

The project will come into fruition in April 2020 when the budget will be in place to support this on a long term basis. When fully rolled out, the council will be in a position to take a more proactive approach to grant funding and increase their annual income by £1.5 million each year.

The council’s commitment to this project is evident by their desire to dedicate this to an officer on a long term basis. Securing external funding will be their primary focus and will ensure that maximum impact is had on the council’s finances.

The work done by the expert and project team has resulted in a coordinated, strategic and informed process being worked to by officers across the council. It will ensure that bids and services are complementing each other and creating better value.

It will positively impact on the quality and standard of applications being submitted to funders. By working to the processes proposed by our expert, we are able to earlier identify issues with projects specifically around legal and procurement which saves officer time on wasted projects.

The project has increased transparency and information across council service areas. In the long term, it will create greater awareness across management, executive and members of the good work being done across the district and the positive impact this is having on resident’s lives.

How is the new approach being sustained?

The council’s senior management team have agreed to take forward a report to recommend

  1. The recruitment of a dedicated role with day to day responsibility for managing the the platforms and resources needed to underpin the strategy.
  2. Investing into a grant funding software package which will feed into many of the new resources being implemented as a result of this project.

Lessons learned

  • The council has a good track record in applying for external grants however this usually takes officers away from other responsibilities and can create additional stress and pressure. 
  • Bid-writing requires a particular skill set and experience to ensure project bids are well-written, meet funding criteria, include necessary evidence, and are submitted within deadlines. This is not something the council have previously considered doing in-house until now.
  • Implementation of the external funding strategy will create a more cohesive and positive approach within the council to funding.

Links to relevant documents

External funding strategy

Contact

Warwick District Council
Ellie Hirons, ellie.hirons@warwickdc.gov.uk

LGA
Grace Abel, Advisor, Grace.abel@local.gov.uk