Cabinet Office changes tech spending rules

Revised policy document requires central government bodies to record ‘pipeline’ of plans for investment in digital and technology

The Cabinet Office has given central government organisations more flexibility in their plans for digital and technology spending, replacing the need for approval of individual projects with a requirement to develop a 15-month ‘pipeline’ of relevant plans.

It has updated the requirements in a new version of its spend controls policy following a trial stretching back to early last year.

70 Whitehall signThe earlier controls included a need to apply for approval for individual projects, with baselines of £100,000 for digital and £1 million for technology.

The new version still requires that organisations record all existing and future digital spend over baseline figures on a pipeline document – although the figure for technology spending has been raised to £5 million.

Similarly, any novel or contentious choices have to be included in the pipeline, with senior technology advisers from the Government Digital Service (GDS) providing support on what falls under the rule. This allows the Cabinet Office to review anything that might appear disproportionately complex or risky.

It also says that new spending plans should be added as soon as possible and all items listed under each activity, and that any consultancy spending over £1 million needs to be approved.

Retrospective aspect

The policy provides some scope for retrospective approval of spending if the rules are inadvertently broken, when it would have qualified and if the organisation has put in place controls to prevent the breach happening again. But it also makes clear that there could be financial sanctions to recover irregular spending.

It describes the controls – which are among a broader range of spending rules for central government – as a way of improving the cross-government approach to spending, preventing waste and promoting the re-use of technology.

The previous rules were imposed by the former Efficiency and Reform Group in the Cabinet Office in 2013, directing any spending of more than £100,000 on digital projects to be approved by GDS before going ahead.

blogpost from GDS says the pipeline approach will lead it to look at all the relevant activity rather than just the spend above the threshold, and provides for a more agile approach.

It claims that the pilots showed that it enables earlier engagement between the government bodies and GDS, ensures the consistent application of relevant standards and lays the ground for better planning and decision-making.

It is now planning to roll out the process beyond the found departments – unnamed so far – which were involved in the pilot.