One-off process for tech spend approvals officially retired with all departments now running pipelines

Process through which departments have long been able to request approval for spending on one-off tech initiatives has been formally withdrawn, with all organisations having finally adopted a long-term pipeline

The government has officially retired guidelines for agencies to request approval for spending on one-off digital and technology projects, with all departments having finally adopted the longer-term pipeline model.

First introduced in 2010, the controls require departments to obtain approval for any spending considered to be outside of ‘business-as-usual’ activity and encompassing digital projects valued at £100,000 and technology investments in excess of £5m. As of earlier this year, all investments in cryptography systems – regardless of value – also require approval.

Since its creation in 2021, assurance and approval of spending is led by government’s Central Digital and Data Office. The unit is required to work alongside the Government Commercial Function in submitting requests for ministerial approval for any proposed departmental tech spending of more than £20m.

The most significant revamp of the controls came in 2018 when a pipeline model was introduced, which asked agencies to provide details of planned digital and IT projects many months in advance – but offered greater autonomy in enabling departments to, effectively, self-approve business-as-usual investments.

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It is recommended that departments maintain a 15- to 18-month forward-looking pipeline encompassing all DDaT projects – not just those that meet the threshold for requiring approval. At a minimum, engagement with CDDO advisers is expected no later than three months before approval is required.

This model was intended to provide the Cabinet Office with greater insight into departmental plans and future spending, and replace a long-standing process through which one-off approval requests were submitted for each individual investment.

However, departments retained the option of using the non-pipeline method and simply seek approval as and when required for single projects or procurements.

The formal guidelines setting out how departments that were “yet to transition to the new pipeline process” should complete the one-off approval submissions remained live on GOV.UK and were updated several times in the months and years following the introduction of the pipeline system.

But, in update published earlier this week, the Cabinet Office officially withdrew the guidance for single submissions.

“This process has now been replaced by the digital and technology spend control pipeline process for all organisations,” the update said.

PublicTechnology understands that the advisory document has been formally retired as all departments have now implemented a pipeline detailing their intended projects and investment to the Cabinet Office – and available to the general public.

Ubiquitous adoption of the longer-term model was achieved last year, it is understood – four years after the system was first introduced.

When the pipeline was first implemented, the Government Digital Service – which ran the process at the time – said that the model “is not something that has been dictated by the centre of government – it has been built with and for users in departments”.

“This will show us where and how GDS and departments need to work together to improve things,” it added. “This is a more agile, iterative model which will rely on and strengthen departments’ existing governance processes.”

Sam Trendall

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