189: Building the investment case: How to get money from government
Many projects require a government contribution but the process by which this can be secured often seems opaque. So what do you need to do to get that often elusive funding?
There are always more projects around than finance available, especially in the current straightened financial times. It is not that obvious that we live in a post-austerity age. So the competition for funds is fierce and the subject of both formal processes as well as political oversight.
So what approach should be adopted to increase the chances of success?
- Business case – a deftly developed business case that reflects local priorities, with supporting local plans, and national priorities as well. Schemes, especially in the transport sector, often exist because they have always existed rather being based on any fundamental need. In other words, the days of vanity projects or solutions looking for a problem to solve are long gone. The business case also needs to think communications during its development as well – reflecting the politics, the community and in the language it uses.
- Clear brand and vision – any project needs to be clear on what it is about, what it will achieve and how it will benefit the local community (and beyond). However good the communications and campaigning may be, many people will have only a fleeting awareness of the project so make it as easy as possible for them to remember it. The whole case has to be made compelling.
- Clear and unequivocal local support – this needs to come from all parts of the community but particularly from businesses, with a financial contribution as well with any luck as well! So good local engagement and consultation has to be a fundamental part of any project not just for legal and process reasons but because it is needed for government engagement as well (as well as improving the project itself). This brings us back to the need for all project materials to think communications. Whilst many may be fundamentally technical documents, it has to be remembered that many will be fully accessible public documents. The local community too should call on Government to make the investment.
- Clear leadership – the team leading the project needs to be consistent and stable over time. Chopping and changing people and / or messages means that relationships have to be constantly re-established and in perception terms it all makes the project look weak. The more the project has a figurehead, a clearly identifiable lead, the better.
- Involve the whole community – no project should be dominated by the local ‘great and good’. Projects should focus on the people and the future, not just bricks and mortar.
- Campaign – do not be afraid to work in favour of the project, everyone needs to know about the benefits it will bring. Once the foundations are in place then go on to do the supporting work, ie campaign for it. The more some early achievements can be secured, such as high-level supporters, then the more momentum can be built up. Efforts then need to focus on maintaining that momentum as projects are long-term investments.
- Identify the people that can really help your scheme – these might be supporters, local organisations, third parties, or those in government making the decisions. Then talk to them! Regular communications with these stakeholders is essential, you should not just appear when you need something, ie money! Profile can be important as well so talking about the project at conferences and in the media should all be part of the mix.
- Plus those that could impact negatively – give consideration to potential opponents from the start of the project and any campaign. If it helps focus minds, think of yourselves as being in a competitive situation but continue to work with them where possible. An antagonistic approach will help no-one and it may only serve to firm-up opponents and make them even more determined. The moral high ground is always the best place to be.
- Gather information – over the course of the project from personal contact, meetings, research, polls, consultation and engagement. The better informed you are, the stronger your arguments will be.
- Build collaboration across stakeholders – wherever possible seek out opportunities for the project to work across stakeholders, you need to be thinking about and seeking out potential areas for collaboration whether that be local opportunities for jobs and skills, or pushing opportunities for inward investment. It should be hoped with such third party organisations and stakeholders would help with building support and engagement around the project and assist in any lobbying.
- Government officials – discussions with officials can sometimes feel that they go on for forever but remember who makes recommendations to Ministers. They have a process to follow, especially if your proposal might get challenged. You too don’t want any weak spots.
- Use the opportunities already delivered by government before asking for more – this needs an understanding of what measures and funds the government has already put in place before making further bids. If it turns out that you have your basic ‘ask’ wrong then go back to square one. Applications to government are also less likely to be successful if they are merely an appeal for cash.
- Lobbying – it may be unfashionable to use the word but Ministers and relevant Parliamentarians need to hear your narrative that focuses on the ‘why’ and the problems to be solved before going anywhere near the ‘asks’. Working with All Party Groups, getting involved in the work of Select Committees, can all be relevant and useful.
Of course, none of this guarantees success and the heart of any proposal is the quality of the business case. But if you follow these general principles then your chances of success will increase.