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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The Cabinet Office spend 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 costing £100,000 or more involves 5 stages:
- stage 1: Making a spending request: Communications Single Budget (CSB)
- stage 2: Making a spending request: Professional Assurance (PASS) form
- stage 3: Meeting conditions set on spending approval
- stage 4: Procuring communications services for approved spending
- stage 5: Monitoring and evaluating your communications activity
There is a shorter approval process for activity costing less than £100,000 in a financial year.
To ensure the process runs as smoothly as possible, you need to:
- Make sure all activity falls under a PM priority theme, each of which has a designated account manager within the Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Office.
- Get in touch with the relevant account manager who will support you in securing a decision and meeting any conditions set for approved spending.
Stage 1: Making a spending request: Communications Single Budget (CSB)
Projected spend of £100,000 or more
Before the beginning of the financial year, departments submit initial 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 CSB to the GCS Ministerial Board.
The GCS Ministerial Board approves in principle the CSB for the next financial year.
Stage 2: Making a spending request: Professional Assurance (PASS) form
Before spending the money
If the initial business case is approved in principle, departments should complete the full PASS form on the online platform GCS Flow, before beginning to spend money on the campaign. The data provided at the CSB stage will be carried over to the PASS form and can be amended if needed.
All PASS forms should be approved by the relevant departmental minister and Director of Communications, as well as the thematic lead Director of Communications, before being submitted for approval.
You are strongly encouraged to contact the relevant account manager 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.
Wherever possible, departments should submit their PASS form:
- 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 a Cabinet Office Minister and the Prime Minister’s Director of Communications, 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 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 Communications Single Budget, you must submit a new business case.
Unanticipated cases and may be challenged and compensatory savings may need to be found from within the GCS Board-approved budgets.
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
In some cases, 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.
Conditions will also be recorded on GCS Flow and you will receive a notification automatically when all conditions are due to be completed.
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.
Stage 4: 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.
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, you should demonstrate the impact of the campaign over the past quarter and progress towards meeting its success Key Performance Indicators set out in the PASS form.
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
You must also complete an end of campaign evaluation form for each campaign.
Send it to:
- no later than 6 months after the activity has ended and
- in advance of any future request for further spend on the campaign.
Spend under £100,000
For campaigns and programmes of communications with a projected total spend under £100,000 within a financial year, a short business case should be submitted directly to the relevant GCS account manager, before starting the activity.
For general enquiries about the scope or process for advertising, marketing and communication spend controls, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Your application will be overseen by one of the following people.
Theme: Beating COVID-19 and Better Health
- Director leads: Wendy Fielder, DHSC, Claire Pimm, Cabinet Office
- GCS lead: Joy Steele, Charley Green
Theme: Build Back Better
- Director lead: David Pares, HM Treasury
- GCS lead: Jenny Sheils
- GCS support: Joe Palasz
Theme: Build Back Greener
- Director leads: Abigail Morris, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Toby Nation, Defra
- GCS lead: Charley Green
Theme: Build Back Stronger
- Director lead: Alex Aiken, Executive Director of Government Communication
- GCS leadd: Alice Preedy, Leonie Blakeway
- GCS support: Anil Manji
Theme: Build Back Safer
- Director leads: Rob Hall, Home Office, Mikey Hoare, Cabinet Office
- GCS lead: Jess North
- GCS support: Annette Craze
Theme: Build Back Fairer
- Director lead: Jen Wood, Department for Work and Pensions
- GCS lead: Andy Ravan
- GCS support: Victoria Fell
Theme: Recruiting to our public services
- Director lead: Conrad Bird, Cabinet Office
- GCS lead: David Amstel
Theme: Delivering for the UK (including statutory communications):
- GCS leads: Charlie Holman, Sarah Davies