Professional assurance

GCS works with all central government organisations to ensure that, where taxpayers’ money is being spent on government communications, it is cost-effective and reflects best practice.


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Spending control

The Cabinet Office spending controls help organisations to reduce unnecessary spend and encourage cross-government collaboration. The Cabinet Office operates the controls on behalf of Her Majesty’s Treasury.

The controls cover a number of different areas of spend, including Advertising, Marketing and Communications (the information includes a definition of communications activity covered by the control).

The Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Office works with departments to ensure that the spending control is applied to all GCS communication in line with this guidance.

Breaches of the controls are serious and may ultimately lead to financial sanctions.  

Spending process

The process involves 5 stages:

To ensure the process runs as smoothly as possible, each department has a designated account manager within the Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Office. The account manager will support them in securing a decision and meeting any conditions set for approved spending.

Please note the process for approval of coronavirus (COVID-19) communications activity is slightly different. Please contact one of the GCS Professional Assurance contacts or email communications.controls@cabinetoffice.gov.uk if you have any queries about this. 


Stage 1 – Making a spending request: Communications Single Budget

The business case form must be completed on the online platform GCS Flow, in two stages for CSB and PASS.

Before the beginning of the financial year, departments submit initial short business cases for major campaigns and programmes of communications with a projected total spend of £100,000 or more during the next financial year.

Directors of Communication review all cases and make recommendations for the Communications Single Budget to the GCS Ministerial Board.

The GCS Ministerial Board approves in principle the Communications Single Budget for the next financial year.

Stage 2 – Making a spending request: Professional Assurance (PASS) form

If the initial short business case is approved in principle, departments should complete the full business case on the online platform GCS Flow, before beginning to spend money on the campaign.

All business cases should be approved by the relevant departmental Minister and Director of Communications before being submitted. The business case will be sent to the Minister for the Constitution for a decision. No spending can take place until this approval has been received. The data you provide at CSB stage will be carried over to the PASS, and can be amended if needed.

You must create a new business case for all new, unanticipated cases throughout the financial year. The Minister may challenge unanticipated cases and may request that compensatory savings are found from within the GCS Board-approved departmental budget.

If you wish to spend on design or creation of a new website, campaign microsite, or app, you will need to submit a separate business case to GDS and No 10 digital communications team.

You are strongly encouraged to contact GCS campaigns team well in advance of formally submitting your application. They will work with you on the form to answer your questions, raise any queries, and advise on any further information that may be required. GCS Flow includes more guidance on what to include in your business case.

Submitting your application

Wherever possible, departments should submit their PASS form to the Cabinet Office Minister for approval at least three months in advance of the expected start date for each campaign or programme of communications activity. For cases which may involve TV as part of channel delivery the business case should ideally be submitted five months in advance.

They should expect to receive a response from the Minister no later than 21 days from the date of submission, and we cannot guarantee a response faster than this. The 21-day turnaround should be factored into your planning to meet any internal or campaign delivery deadlines.

If your business case is approved, you will receive an HMG approval code. This should be included on all briefs and other paperwork related to the business case.

Stage 3 – Meeting conditions set on spending approvals

The Cabinet Office Minister may set some conditions upon which your spending approval is contingent. These will be set out in the decision letter sent to your Director of Communications, and you will be asked to acknowledge them, and agree how your progress towards meeting them will be reported back. Conditions will also be recorded on GCS Flow and you will receive a notification automatically when all conditions are due to be complete.

Our acceptance of any Professional Assurance application for spending in a subsequent financial year will be dependent on you meeting any conditions set on previous approvals.

You should not run pitches, or brief agencies before you have received formal approval from Cabinet Office.

Stage 4 – Procuring communications services for approved spending

All new contracts for the supply of any communications services must be procured through government frameworks approved by the Cabinet Office. For guidance on procurement through approved frameworks please refer to the Crown Commercial Service website.

If your campaign involves paid-for media, ensure that your team uses the client briefing template to communicate your requirements to the media buying agency MG OMD. To access the brief, go to the tab marked ‘Documents’ and download the document titled ‘RM6003 Client briefing template’.

You should not run pitches and brief agencies before you have received formal approval from the Cabinet Office.

Stage 5 – Monitoring and evaluating your communications activity

Departments must provide quarterly performance updates to the GCS Ministerial Board for each campaign that receives spending approval, using the standard reporting template. Responses are due in the first week of July, the first week of October, the first week of January, and the first week of April and should demonstrate the impact of the campaign over the past quarter and progress towards meeting its success KPIs that were set out in the PASS form.

At the same time as the quarterly report, we also ask you to complete a pipeline of business cases expected to be submitted over the coming months.

An end of campaign evaluation form should also be completed for each campaign and returned to communications.controls@cabinetoffice.gov.uk no later than six months after the activity has ended and in advance of any future request for further spend on the campaign.

Contacts

Your application will be overseen by one of the following:

  • David Amstel – Head of Cross-Government Campaign Services
  • Vanessa Cook – Head of Special Projects
  • Charlotte Green – Deputy Head of Prime Minister’s Priorities and Domestic Campaigns
  • Nicky Jackson – Deputy Head of Local Campaigns and Insight, GCS

If you have general enquiries about the scope or process of Professional Assurance, email communications.controls@cabinetoffice.gov.uk.