Professional assurance guidance

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 practices.

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Spending controls

The Cabinet Office spending controls help organisations to reduce unnecessary spending. They also encourage cross-government collaboration.

The Cabinet Office operates the controls on behalf of Her Majesty’s Treasury. The controls cover many different areas of spending, including advertising, marketing and communications activity. 

The Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Office work with departments to ensure that the advertising, marketing and communication spending control is applied to all government communication in line with this guidance.

Read Advertising, marketing and communications spending controls to learn about the scope of this control.

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


Spending approval process

The process to request approval for advertising, marketing and communications activity involves 4 stages:

Stage 1: Strategic planning (pipeline)

Before the beginning of the financial year, departments submit initial, strategic business cases to GCS for planned campaigns and programmes of communications during the next financial year.

Complete the strategic business case form (GCS members only – updated 13 December 2021)

Next steps

This pipeline of planned activity is reviewed by the GCS senior leadership team and No.10, who give approval in principle for cases to proceed to the next stage.

Stage 2: Making a spending request – technical business case

Before committing any spend

If the initial strategic business case is approved in principle, departments must complete the technical business case form, before beginning to spend money on the campaign.

Complete the technical business case form (GCS members only – updated 17 March 2022)

All technical cases should be approved by the relevant departmental minister and Director of Communications, before being submitted to GCS for approval.

You are strongly encouraged to contact the relevant GCS lead well in advance of formally submitting your case. 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.

Wherever possible, departments should submit their technical case:

  • at least 3 months in advance of the expected start date for each campaign or programme of communications activity
  • 5 months in advance for cases which may involve TV as part of channel delivery

The business case will be sent to the Cabinet Office Minister and the Prime Minister’s Senior Special Advisers for a formal decision.

No spending can take place until this approval has been received

The Cabinet Office generally operates a 28-day service level agreement (SLA) for spending controls. However, for AMC spending controls, the teams work to a 21-day SLA from the date of formal submission.

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

Creating a new business case

For any campaigns that were not anticipated in the strategic planning exercise, you must submit a new, full business case to GCS.

Full business case form (GCS members only – updated 17 March 2022)

Unanticipated cases will be challenged and will only be accepted where the need for communications could not reasonably have been foreseen.

Spending on campaign websites or apps

If you wish to spend on the design or creation of a new website, campaign microsite, or app, you will need to submit a separate business case to GDS and the GCS digital communications team.

Stage 3: Meeting conditions set on spending approvals

Your spending approval may be contingent upon meeting specific conditions. These will be set out in the decision letter sent to your Director of Communications. You will be asked to acknowledge these conditions.

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

Stage 4: Monitoring and evaluating your communications activity

Departments must complete an end of campaign evaluation form for each campaign.

Send it to communications.controls@cabinetoffice.gov.uk as soon as evaluation methods allow and no later than 6 months after the activity has ended. Evaluation results must be provided to GCS in advance of any future request for further spend on the campaign.


Procuring communications services for approved spending

You must procure all new contracts for the supply of any communications services through government frameworks approved by the Cabinet Office.

Refer to the Crown Commercial Service website for guidance.

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 Manning Gottlieb 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.


Contacts

For general enquiries about the scope or process for advertising, marketing and communication spend controls, email communications.controls@cabinetoffice.gov.uk. Your application will be overseen by one of the following GCS leads:

  • Crime and Safety – Jess North
  • Economy – Vanessa Cook and Joy Steele
  • Levelling Up – Vanessa Cook and Joy Steele
  • Environment – Leonie Blakeway
  • International – Leonie Blakeway and Alice Preedy
  • Health – Alice Preedy
  • Public Services (statutory, operational and revenue raising) – Jenny Sheils