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Digital spend control – an update

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Services and products, Strategy

Since I previously blogged about how we intended to add value beyond compliance, we've supported a number of BIS agencies and arms length bodies to gain digital spend approval.

We've been working with GDS and BIS colleagues to better align the ICT and digital controls.

From January, there will be a single BIS routeway for both digital and ICT approvals with the BIS ICT Expenditure Advisory Group (EAG) considering both controls where needed.

Guidance issued by GDS defines digital as “any external facing service delivered through the internet to citizens, businesses, civil society or non-government organisations”. This means that an ICT project with an external facing element will potentially require both ICT and digital spend approval subject to the delegation limits.

The Cabinet Office have set lower delegation limits for digital than those for ICT in order to provide visibility of digital services so that GDS can ensure changes are contributing to the government commitment to be digital by default, with services focused on the user need, as well as providing value for money.

Any expenditure over £100,000 and all expenditure (no lower limit) on identity assurance for the general public, domain name registration, and any external facing digital transactional service, website or mobile app must be approved under the digital control before the expenditure is committed.

Expenditure under £100,000 on existing websites which do not meet the above criteria (identity assurance, transactional service or mobile app) does not require Cabinet Office approval but the Government Service Design Manual and the GOV.UK design principles should still be followed.

The definition of a transaction is a service which involves an exchange of money, goods, services or information between the government and user, resulting in a change to a government system. So, if you are developing a new digital tool or making changes to an existing tool which is externally accessible and involves a user providing information which is saved on a system/database, this would be classed as a transactional service and subject to the digital spend control with a zero limit.

Some lessons learned from those who have recently been through the approvals process include:

  • Don't assume the spend control doesn't apply to you - check and be sure. Retrospective approval is far harder to explain.
  • Engage early so you know what's required and can factor in the time to gain the relevant approvals and ensure that time and effort are not wasted on nugatory work.
  • More than one spend approval may apply depending on the project and you'll need approval for all of them to proceed with authority.
  • Internal costs are included as well as those for external suppliers and approval is for the total cost (investment “one off development costs” as well as running costs, usually based on the length of the contract to be put in place).
  • It doesn’t matter where the funding comes from – even if funding has already been agreed or a change is being funded via another government department or grant, approval is still required to spend the funding in line with the Managing Public Money rules.
  • Don't wait until final costs are known. The approval process may need to be repeated linked to the development of the Business Case. For example: initial approval for spend to cover scoping or feasibility work detailed in the Strategic Outline Case; approval to proceed with procurement or further development of the preferred option detailed in the Outline Business Case and approval of final costs at the Full Business Case to reflect the procurement outcome.

We are currently updating the BIS guidance to reflect the new approval routeway from January and further information will be issued shortly. In the meantime if you have any queries do get in touch.

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