A Centre of Excellence has set minimum standards for grants management across a large and complex government body. Good grants management is very important to the Welsh Government. Every year around £13 billion - a large proportion of its budget - is used to fund grants. There are over 400 different programmes, varying in value from a few hundred pounds to many millions.
The Welsh Government set up a Grants Management Project in 2010 to improve its management and administration of grants. A valuable development is the introduction of minimum standards, so that all Directorates will operate an agreed and consistent approach to grants, accommodating HM Treasury requirements, relevant law, policy and good practice.
What were the issues?
As many as 2,000 staff had some role in grants management and administration, working in isolation and without central corporate support and co-ordination. Accordingly, the large number and variety of grants meant that there were wide inconsistencies. Many were not managed properly and a few high-profile cases were the subject of critical reports from auditors.
In the current economic climate, it’s essential that grant investments achieve the intended benefits for the economy and people of Wales and that administration costs are minimised.
Project support has been introduced through a corporate Grants Centre of Excellence team. They reviewed all grant programmes to establish the processes and procedures operated. Instances of good practice were identified and captured. Where weaknesses were found, managers were tasked with addressing them. The findings of the reviews gave an understanding of what was needed to improve the overall standard of grants management and introduce consistent and streamlined good practices.
A comprehensive set of minimum standards, including a ‘due diligence’ check at bid appraisal and payment, was developed for all grants across the Welsh Government. These provide a framework for the development, implementation and processing of any grant. They also set new and professional culture for staff to work within.
All officials dealing with any grant funding must comply with the minimum standards. To ensure this happens, computer based training packages are available to all staff having any role in grants. This is supported by more detailed face-to-face training which is being rolled-out.
The minimum standards are featured prominently on the intranet, along with overarching guidance providing comprehensive advice on the various stages of a grant’s life cycle. This guidance includes templates and checklists which can be amended in a proportionate way to meet individual grant requirements. The Centre of Excellence team also provides an advice line which is now open to queries from the public as well as to Welsh Government colleagues.
Complementing internal audit, the Centre of Excellence also has a ‘compliance role’, carrying out spot checks of individual grants to ensure that the minimum standards continue to be met.
The outcomes achieved - benefits obtained and resulting success factors
Grants management has improved by a more consistent ‘good practice’ approach, focusing on delivering results as well as providing assurance to the public purse. Funding is now routed following the most appropriate method and in ways which are proportionate in terms of scale, value and potential risk.
Administration is starting to reduce – as seen by a one-third reduction in the number of offer letters needing to be issued.
Whilst further activities are planned, the Welsh Government considers that the overall level of risk for specific grants has fallen from ‘high’ to ‘medium’.
Name: Tracey Mayes
Role: Grants Centre of Excellence