Questions about applying for the C-19 Challenge fund

If you have a question about an application to the Local Digital COVID-19 Challenge fund, you can contact the Local Digital team at fund@localdigital.gov.uk.

To help all applicants, previously answered questions have been anonymised and published here. These questions will be used to update our guidance for future rounds of funding.

Previously answered questions

1. How is this round different to previous rounds?

Due to the time-sensitive nature of COVID-19 renewal, we are taking a new approach with a special round in order to move things forward at pace and ensure outputs remain relevant. This is why we have provided specific thematic areas, given a shortened timeline, and offered different funding options to ease the burden of procurement.

Unlike other rounds, council’s can apply for funding on their own – so you don’t have to find council partners as long as the outcome is relevant to, and usable by, other councils.

2. Is it just councils that can bid for this, or a group of councils with a technology partner?

Only councils can apply to this fund. A lead council should submit the application on behalf of all project partners, if you have partners. All council partners should have signed the Local Digital Declaration. We will not accept applications from suppliers.

We’ll run a Q&A session on 6 July for further clarifications.

3. What kind of projects is MHCLG interested in?

We have used the Assessment criteria detailed on page 10 of the Local Digital Fund prospectus to assess applications in previous funding rounds. These criteria are based on the principles outlined in the Local Digital Declaration. We will use these to assess applications to the COVID-19 Challenge Fund, but with an emphasis on projects that have the potential for immediate impact, as opposed to longer term savings.

An independent panel will decide which projects are funded.

4. Are you looking for digital and data enabled approaches for all the themes?

Projects do not need to have a pure technology focus, or have a software and tech output. For example, the potential output could be a playbook or piece of guidance.

5. Do we need to evidence discovery work? If so, what kind and what’s the minimum you would be looking for?

If you do have discovery evidence, please let us know in the application. However, it’s not necessary to have done a discovery.

6. Is there a bracket or limit on the amount we can bid?

Councils can bid for up to £80k per project. Applications will need to detail how the money will be used.

7. How is this round different to previous rounds?

We are taking a new approach to this round in order to move things forward at pace, so it remains relevant. Therefore, we have provided thematic areas, given strict timelines, and are doing procurement differently. We have also said that one council can apply for funding on this round, it doesn’t have to be a group of councils, so long as the outcome is relevant and usable to other councils.

8. Can the partners be a mix of councils, combined authorities and central government departments?

Yes, but the lead applicant must be a council signatory.

9. Can one council put in multiple applications, or be involved in multiple applications?

A council can lead/submit up to 2 applications. A council can be a partner in as many applications as they want.

10. What are the options for procuring digital capabilities for projects?

MHCLG can procure support from companies with digital capabilities on behalf of project teams via the Digital Marketplace. For councils who can quickly and confidently procure these capabilities themselves, we are open to making a section 31 payment to transfer some or all of the project budget to the lead council. This will be discussed with the selected projects at the appropriate time – preferences can be indicated on the application form.

11. In order to deliver the project and the specified outcomes we have no option but to bring in digital capabilities from outside our organisation. We would like to confirm that we can bid for this resource as part of the submission.

Yes, we encourage project teams to identify and plan for which external resources will be needed to support the project, and roughly how much these could cost.

12. Can MHCLG help to identify suitable people / agencies etc who could provide digital capabilities and expertise should the bid and funding be approved?

Yes, MHCLG can run the supplier procurement – with the input of project teams – on behalf of the selected projects.

13. What scope is there to look at education as part of this application – we’re keen to look at our 19+ residents and improve digital accessibility of education content to those hardest to reach. Would MCHLG look at that with us?

From your description the application meets the criteria of Covid-19 and digital related. The other criteria is on how your outputs can be reused by other councils. You will need to demonstrate that aspect in your application. For all criteria, check the prospectus.

14. What sort of support is available from MHCLG?

For this round of funding we are offering to run the procurement exercise and run the project for those projects that ask for it. In addition, the projects may benefit from things like having us talk in the open about their work, using our channels to find user research participants, etc. We are keen to hear from projects what support might be required and will endeavour to help as much as we can.

15. Does the solution need to start showing benefits within 2 months or would we need to have a prototype ready within 2 months?

Project outputs must be completed by 2 months (including prototypes) and ideally tested in the 2 months. It’s okay for benefits to come after.

16. In terms of an application being of benefit to other councils – is this building in process mapping, modelling and feedback elements to share best practice with other local authorities, rather than having to work directly with other councils when implementing the project?

We ask that the produced outputs are made available to other councils, showing how it can be used so that other councils can figure out how to reuse the outputs. You do not have to implement the output with other councils.

17. What if the solution wasn’t to solve a ‘specific’ problem, but to support Local Authorities to deal with the more ‘general’ problems Covid-19 has thrown at us?

Yes it can be for more generic problems, but you would need to identify the digital or data aspect of the problem.

18. The max bid is for 80k but if a bid came in for more than this would it need to be exceptional, and are you really looking for applications of a lesser amount on average, something around the 40k mark

All bids will be assessed for the potential they have to benefit councils over the amount of money requested. Funded projects of up to £80,000 will be selected by an independent panel.

19. In cases where multiple boroughs support one application, what is the expectation for the involvement of all boroughs during the 2 month delivery period?

We do not mandate how partner councils work with the lead council. However, we would anticipate that partners take an active role in adding their local requirements, testing outputs and adopting in their councils where appropriate.

20. We are interested in the line about MHCLG running projects – can you explain the thinking here and how that might work?

If procurement is required (for example to engage digital agencies) the procurement process can be run by MHCLG to help reduce the procurement burden on councils. MHCLG will run the procurement process for the project. Supplier contracts will be awarded and performance managed by MHCLG. Payments to the supplier will also be managed by MHCLG. MHCLG will run the project as well with the lead council and other partners as active project collaborators (feed in requirements, test, etc).

21. Regarding ‘ways of working’, is this likely to be a request to support a specific service rather than council-wide? Would we be able to ask for funds to cover software costs to aid this process or resource budget to be able to allocate remote working coaches to critical services.

It could be a council wide project, but you will need to provide evidence on how it’s going to be delivered in 2 months. Software costs or the need for specialists like coaches would need to be specified and included in your bid (up to £80,000). However from your description it sounds like the outputs would only benefit one council – we will only fund projects where the outputs can be reused by other councils.

22. Our application would be around continued community engagement. We would like to keep connected virtually, with residents within the town from a social side with friends, but also appointments with GP and Social Workers. Could we receive funding for the connectivity (paying for devices and mobile plans) to be able to do this and also for staff support?

Unfortunately no. This does come under IT hardware and also because the devices, hotspots/broadband and staff would only benefit one council, it does not meet the fund criteria.

23. Is there a process to collaborate with other local authorities? For example, are there a list of bids and opportunities to collaborate on?

We will be sharing a potential bids list on this slack channel, this will allow early sight of ideas for people to collaborate on (where appropriate).

24. We’re looking into supporting the needs of residents to become/stay active through community-based sessions. This would be through the use of a booking system app. We would use data gained to further explore health inequalities in the area and help to streamline how health professionals and local/county governments communicate. Is this something you would consider supporting in the fund?

From your description, the application meets the criteria of being Covid-19 and digital related. The other criteria is on how your outputs can be reused by other councils. You will need to demonstrate that aspect in your application. For all criteria, check the prospectus.

25. Is there any guidance from MHCLG about working across public sector partners or the voluntary sector?

Projects should approach and discuss with potential partners they are interested in working with. We can help make connections to other departments however MHCLG will not be able to dictate what other public sector organisations do.

Projects are welcome to work with voluntary sector partners, however we would expect projects to approach and discuss potential collaboration with those organisations themselves before submitting the application.

26. In cases where multiple authorities apply for projects tackling similar issues, what approach will MHCLG take?

We will be sharing a potential bid list with everyone so that people can join up if appropriate. However if more than one proposal is submitted to solve the same issue, the independent panel will assess them all and choose the one that’s most viable and beneficial to the local government sector.

29. Is there a limit to the number of collaboration partners and can we name partners we have in mind up front?

No, there is no limit to the amount of partners you can work with on this project. As a courtesy, we recommend speaking to partners first before naming them on the bid as we will be publishing all bids publicly.

30. Would you consider a project looking at working with GDS and gov.uk Verify for identity verification?

Project applications will be considered as long as they meet all the ‘Must Have’ eligibility criteria.

30. Would working from home be viewed as ‘developing new working practices’, given the wider use during COVID-19 and the idea that this should become more common in future?

Yes, working from home would fall under the category of ‘developing new working practices’, so long as it meets the criteria outlined in the fund prospectus.

31. It states that “Project outputs must be relevant to, and reusable by, other councils” – if we create a data solution that is based on something like Azure + PowerBi then would that be okay? It can be re-used but does need licenses.

You can build the prototype/solution in a technology stack (Azure + PowerBi). You would have to outline how other councils can reuse your outputs, including councils that don’t have the same technology stack e.g. how to join up data sources, what worked, what didn’t etc.

32. Nottinghamshire authorities, including Public Health, CCG, substance misuse partners, etc do lots of multi agency work to assist those rough sleeping and there have been lots of data sharing requests during lockdown to ensure health conditions are known and the correct advice about shielding, etc is given. We are all keen to continue this data sharing and having a digital solution that makes this super easy would be great! But there are so many different systems involved and each stakeholder has their own requirements, so we’re thinking we could bid for someone to help us scope out a solution that will work with these systems, etc?

There is another potential bid from Camden about multi-agency data sharing. We will share the list of potential bids on this channel so that you can see whether you can join up. We understand the scope that you’re covering is big (and relevant) however if it’s a scoping application, the outputs will not be reusable by other councils at the end of 2 months. We would recommend reducing the scope or think of another approach in terms of outputs.

33. Could you confirm the definition of IT hardware that will not be eligible for this fund?

IT hardware examples that we will not fund include laptops/devices for citizens, laptops/devices for staff, broadband connections, server hardware etc.