Scottish Public Finance Manual

The Scottish Public Finance Manual (SPFM) is issued by the Scottish Ministers to provide guidance on the proper handling and reporting of public funds.

FGN2020/03 SPFM Covid-19 Accountable Officer Guidance and Funding Ask Template: March 2020

FGN2020/03 COVID-19 Accountable Officer guidance and runding ask template: March 2020

The purpose of this note is to announce recent additional guidance for Accountable Officers during the current COVID-19 situation. The guidance is as follows:


This framework provides guidance to Accountable Officers with regards the COVID-19 outbreak and seeks to support effective, robust and evidenced based decision making whilst also enabling a timely response to issues identified. All other spending requests outwith COVID-19 should continue to follow existing guidance.

Due to the nature of COVID-19, it is recognised that flexible decision making may be required in order to avoid adverse impacts in dealing with the outbreak. In some instances, therefore, it may not be possible due to the immediacy of decisions to ensure a full audit trail for decision making is in place. It is suggested, that as far as possible, Accountable Officers follow this guidance.

Director Generals are asked to consider ahead of time, where possible, activities that may be reduced, stopped, or re-profiled, thereby releasing savings that can be redirected to cover the cost of COVID-19 in the event the UK Government does not fully fund all actions taken in Scotland. The outbreak, may lead to savings in other areas, such as reduction in staff travel and slippage in new funding or capital schemes which could be utilised to support increased COVID-19 expenditure in other areas.  It is possible that additional spending will be required at pace and scale and it is important we have deliverable reprioritisation options available to support this.  Such consideration would need to take into account the impact of deferral on expenditure in future years.

This guidance also applies for public bodies. For bodies sponsored by the Scottish Government, the sponsorship unit/ Director General should be made aware of any actions proposed to be undertaken, with the public body flagging any areas it believes it may need to take immediate emergency decisions on as a result of the outbreak where practical.

In determining procedures for reporting, public bodies should be aware:

  • All actions and associated costs of COVID-19 are to be captured and reported to their Scottish Government contacts (eg executive agencies to relevant Director/DG).This will be captured by the Scottish Government via monthly monitoring requests.

Decision making

The nature of the outbreak will result in two types of decision: decisions that can be made in slower time, and decisions that need to be made immediately.  The process will vary depending on the nature of the financial decision.  To note: costs, savings and spend reprioritisation for COVID-19, for Scottish Government and its public bodies, will require to be tracked for reporting to Ministers and Parliament.

Annex A sets out the template to be utilised in order to set out proposed actions for sign off. For COVID-19, this template replaces normal Ministerial submissions. Your subject Cabinet Secretary should sign off templates prior to this being sent to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Deputy First Minister for approval.

Decisions that need to be taken immediately

Some actions will be required to be taken as a priority, in order to support the health and safety of the public ie the issue cannot be dealt with as part of day to day activities and not taking the decision would threaten serious damage to human welfare.

Even though action is taken quickly and for good reason, Accountable Officers should seek homologation of decision making following the event, and document this decision in order to support future Parliamentary or UK Government asks. Annex A sets out the template to be utilised for these decisions.

Decisions that can be made in slower time

The COVID-19 outbreak may require action that can be considered in advance, in which case, the regular Scottish Government scheme of delegation and governance rules apply. Accountable officers should ensure that consideration is given to the areas as set out in Annex A when assessing potential actions.

In line with incurring expenditure guidance, it is expected that DGs manage any combined COVID-19 spend of £1m or less. Spend under £1m must be tracked in the event the SG can reclaim this from the UK Government.

Where expenditure exceeds £1m, the template at Annex A should be sent for sign off as per the guidance under Decision Making. DGs should consider reprioritising budget and set out the options to be agreed by their Minister when they are able to do so in the event the Scottish Government is not able to reclaim funding from the UK Government. If funds cannot be reprioritised, either fully or partially, DGs should contact Finance, in advance of writing to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and other relevant ministers, setting out why this is the case and, following this, decisions on the wider SG budget would require to be taken.

The cost impact of such critical activities / decisions should be included as part of regular updates provided in COVID-19 budget monitoring.

Further Issues to consider

Due to the potential activities which may be undertaken, accountable officers should take particular note of the following potential issues. Where these type of issues emerge, it is vital to seek advice from Finance officials/Finance Business Partners, SGLD or procurement as appropriate.

In your stewardship of public funds, all actions require to stand the test of Parliamentary scrutiny, public judgements and propriety and professional codes of conduct.

1. Novel and contentious spend

"Novel" relates to proposed expenditure or financial arrangements of a sort not previously undertaken or entered into by the body in question or that could not be considered, reasonably, to be standard practice. "Contentious" relates to proposed expenditure or financial arrangements where there was doubt as to regularity (i.e. compliance with relevant legislation and guidance) or propriety (i.e. compliance with the standards expected of public bodies or officials).

This includes whether the spend is within currently delegated limits.

In business as usual circumstances, approval of a novel or contentious transaction is required prior to the decision being taken. If a decision needs to be taken immediately due to the action constituting a health and safety issue, Accountable officers must still approach their Finance Business Partner following the decision in order to homologate the approach.

2. Statutory and budgetary powers

Accountable officers should also assess whether any expenditure undertaken as a result of the outbreak has appropriate statutory power.

If there is no statutory power, it may still be possible to undertake the expenditure if Ministers possess the necessary common law powers or the expenditure is not of a continuing nature. Please see the Scottish Public Finance Manual for more details. 

Accountable officers contemplating activities giving rise to expenditure for which there are no statutory powers should contact SGLD and their Finance Business Partner. 

3. Cash availability

The funding requirements of the Scottish Administration and other bodies directly funded by the Scottish Consolidated Fund will continue to be derived from monthly forecasts prepared by Treasury & Banking under H M Treasury’s Cashflow Management Scheme based on information supplied by participants in the Scheme. Treasury & Banking will continue to manage cash flows in-month, including  adjustments to forecasts as required based on any notifications by participants of changes in forecast receipts and payments. If necessary, Treasury & Banking will request in-month top-up supplies in liaison with H M Treasury.

4. Procurement

Emergency decisions that impact on current SG contracts rest with the contract owner within the SG Directorate concerned, however, SPPD should also be involved, initially though its contract management service.

Decisions that impact on live procurements (that’s where procurement action has been instigated but not yet reached the point of placing a contract) should involve the relevant part of SPPD.

Download the COVID-19 Funding Ask Template here. For a copy list for returns, please contact your Finance Business Partner.

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