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Councils’ innovative grants portal showcased for good practice

Lewes District Council and Eastbourne Borough Council have been recognised for supporting local business through innovation during the pandemic. 

The Local Government Association (LGA) has highlighted the councils’ dedicated portal that delivers Covid-19 business grants, as an example of good practice using a digital solution. 

The new portal was launched on April 9 to administer the Small Business Grant Fund and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund, of between £10,000 or £25,000 per business, in response to acute challenges firms were facing. 

Using a mostly automated system, the councils processed 2,642 grants - to the total value of nearly £34.1m - by the first week of May. If the grants had been handled manually, it is estimated around 20 full-time staff would have been needed to achieve this result, compared to the five staff who worked on the project. 

The councils partnered with a digital company, Ascendant Solutions, to develop the groundbreaking portal which overlays multiple sources of data to check that claims are valid. 

Councillor James MacCleary, Leader of Lewes District Council, said: “It has been extremely tough for our local businesses over recent months and I am very pleased we were able to use technology to its best to ensure they received their grants quicker than any other local authority.

"This is an excellent example of our effective partnership working with the private sector. Well done to all involved in delivering this scheme for their hard work and innovative thinking.” 

Councillor David Tutt, Leader of Eastbourne Borough Council, said: “It was so important that businesses received this help quickly and I’m very proud that we put a system in place that meant eligible local businesses were given funds in a fast and secure manner. 

“We reacted rapidly to get this portal developed and operating efficiently, allowing thousands of firms to get much-needed money at a very difficult time.” 

Applicants firstly register with the portal and then complete a form. This application is checked and verified using a number of algorithms before being assessed for eligibility for a grant. 

Those that meet all the checks and criteria are deemed ‘green’ and receive grants immediately. Cases marked ‘amber’ are considered low risk, but in need of further checks as some basic information is missing. Meanwhile ‘red’ is considered higher risk with these applications requiring thorough checking and often further evidence if grants are to be approved. 

The system has built in measures to save time on processing ineligible applications and protect against exploitation of grants, which has presented a risk to many councils across the UK due to the pressure to distribute money quickly. 

The full case study can be read on the LGA website here: local.gov.uk/covid-19-good-council-practice under cyber and digital solutions. 

Time is running out for businesses still wishing to apply for a grant. For more information visit: lewes-eastbourne.gov.uk/community/covid-19/help-for-businesses/small-business-grant-fund/