Civil Service

We can help the UK Government maximise value for money by ensuring grants are assessed as efficiently, transparently, and safely as possible.”

- Ivana Gordon, Head of the Government Grants Management Function
£110 billion in grants per year


Covid-19 grant applications processed in eight months


The Civil Service Accelerates Grant Approvals with New Due Diligence Tool

The UK Government awards more than £110 billion in grants every year to thousands of organisations and projects, including business startup schemes, community development programmes, and arts initiatives. “Grants are a key enabler of the Government’s ambition for greater economic wellbeing and equality,” said Ivana Gordan, Head of the Government Grants Management Function- a program that is led by the Civil Service.

Meet the Civil Service

The Cabinet Office supports the UK Prime Minister and ensures the effective running of government, including the Government Grants Management Function Covid-19 Response. The Cabinet Office is a ministerial department and the corporate headquarters of the Civil Service.

Grants make up around 13% of the Government’s annual budget - and must offer great value to taxpayers and recipients. “We need to be able to identify fraudulent or ineligible applications to ensure grants reach the right recipients,” explained Gordon. Using Spotlight, a due diligence tool built on Salesforce, Gordan and team have automated the application review process on a massive scale.. “Hundreds of applications can be assessed in a matter of minutes, which helps to maximise resources and minimise risks,” Gordon continued.

Pandemic puts added pressure on government grant process

The need to process large volumes of grant applications efficiently and accurately increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. New schemes, such as relief on business rates, were introduced at short notice resulting in a massive uptick in both the volume and value of government grants. More than £352 billion delivered by the government support pandemic relief and recovery, to protect jobs and livelihoods, including the extended furlough and self-employed income support schemes, government-backed loans, VAT and business rates relief and a ban on commercial evictions.* This serves as a call to action for teams like Gordan's who are responsible for conducting due diligence checks and distributing these much needed funds.

“The annual spend on grants quadrupled during 2020 as a result of the pandemic and EU exit” explained Gordon. “There was a massive influx of applications from charities and businesses, which needed to be assessed and processed as quickly as possible to protect jobs and livelihoods.”

Manual due diligence process delays funding decisions

With due diligence checks taking up to three hours per application, the grant process was anything but quick. Around 85% of due diligence checks were being carried out manually - and some didn’t happen at all when there were large volumes of applications. “Some teams didn’t have the capacity or capability to check every application, so they had to rely on random sampling,” said Gordon. “We wanted to establish a standardised best practice approach to due diligence across Government.”

Prior to the pandemic, Gordon’s team had already started to collaborate with Xansium, a cloud implementation consultancy and digital transformation specialist, about the development of Spotlight--a due diligence tool that checks applications and accelerates grant allocation, helping to prevent fraud and economic crime. “It is the core element of a much bigger vision to transform the grant application and management process,” explained Gordon. “We needed to ensure we developed a solution that would meet future needs around scalability, flexibility, and accessibility.”


Learn More About the Spotlight Tool.

Spotlight went live on 1 April 2020 and was quickly subjected to the ultimate stress test. The solution was originally designed to be used by 17 central government departments, but the pandemic led to a sudden scope change. “Nearly 300 local authorities also signed up to support the COVID-19 funding effort,” said Euan Slack, Head of Spotlight. “Using Salesforce, we were able to adapt Spotlight for a broader user base within a matter of hours.”

New tool accelerates approvals for COVID-19 grants

Spotlight played a critical role in ensuring COVID-19 grants were checked and approved in rapid time. In just eight months, it enabled local authorities and central departments to assess more than 200,000 grant applications - many of which related to business rate relief for retail, hospitality and leisure companies forced to close during national and local lockdowns. “Government grants are vital for promoting economic recovery - especially during challenging times,” said Gordon. “With Spotlight, charities and companies were able to get faster access to funds that were critical to their survival.”

Enabling smarter checks with greater automation and integration

Using just three bits of information, Spotlight automates nearly 70 different checks and flags any applications that need to be investigated further before being approved. The solution is integrated with nine different external data sources, including the UK’s registrars of companies and charity regulators as well as consumer credit resources, and uses Salesforce’s open standards and Lightning Web Components. “The criteria for different grants vary considerably,” commented Slack. “We used Experience Cloud to create a consistent approach to due diligence checks that can be used by multiple teams across multiple funding schemes.”

Around 800 people within the local and central government have used the solution to check thousands of applications since the pandemic started in April 2020. The Government Grants Management Function used Service Cloud to create a knowledge hub with tips to help grant practitioners make the most of Spotlight’s features. Support queries and system enhancement requests from Spotlight users are also logged and tracked via Service Cloud.


Best Practices Checklist.

Spotlight demonstrates five best practices for managing grants applications in the cloud.

Spotlight helps fight against grant fraud and error

As well as simplifying initial due diligence checks, Spotlight can send real-time alerts when the status of a company or charity changes, which might impact their eligibility for funding. It also enables teams to go back and establish if any grants have been awarded in error. Spotlight has already helped to identify around 3% payment irregularity.

Thanks to the data captured in Spotlight, the Government Grants Management Function now has much better visibility of the volume and value of applications being processed. With the help of Einstein Analytics, it can share this data as well as common risk indicators via dynamic dashboards. “We use Einstein Analytics to visualise large volumes of data more easily and effectively, which enables us to discover new insights into funding requests and decisions,” said Slack.

The Government Grants Management Function uses Salesforce Shield in tandem with Einstein Analytics to help track user activity and file downloads, which in turn helps to safeguard the integrity of the Spotlight data. It also uses the Salesforce Platform to provide some team members with more granular visibility of specific grant applications.

Adding new features to unlock added value

Obtaining greater value from data is a big priority for the Government Grants Management Function. The team also captures details on the different grants awarded by different departments via the Government Grants Information System (GGIS). Built on Experience Cloud, the system is key to the creation of Government-wide reports, but the Government Grants Management Function wants to go one step further, as Gordon explained: “We don’t want our systems to just act as giant data repositories; we want them to optimise the entire grant lifecycle.”

The Government Grants Management Function already has plans to expand Spotlight to enable due diligence checks on sole traders, facilitate impact assessments, and simplify the grant application process for companies and charities. “The voluntary sector spends around £1 billion a year on applying for grants with the average application taking around 19 hours,” explained Slack. “With Spotlight, nonprofits will be able to check their eligibility for different grants in advance, which will help save them both time and money.”

Grants encourage greater innovation and growth

Spotlight has already helped to unlock massive efficiency gains at a time when grants were key to the survival of countless companies and charities across the UK. “Spotlight is a great digital success story; we delivered on time, on scope and on budget,” said Gordon. “Government grants help to encourage innovation, promote growth, and tackle social issues. With Spotlight, we can help the Government maximise value for money by ensuring grants are assessed as efficiently, transparently, and safely as possible.”


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