Appraisal advice, training and use of consultants

This page provides advice on use of consultants and training.

Strategic Policy Division

DoF's Strategic Policy Division (SPD) is responsible for maintaining and developing the Northern Ireland Guide to Expenditure Appraisal and Evaluation (NIGEAE). SPD provides general economic appraisal guidance.

Expert advice, use of consultants and training

12.1 Expert advice

12.1.1 Appraisal and evaluation often require and generally benefit from a multi-disciplinary approach, calling on the expertise of a range of specialists. It is important that the right skills and advice are sought and applied as appropriate to the case in hand.

12.1.2 Departmental economists can provide general advice on economic appraisal and evaluation. DoF supply officers can advise on general issues concerning approval procedures. In particular cases, advice and support may be required from a variety of other experts on specific issues including, for example, statistics, procurement, finance and land and property services. The need for expert advice should be considered at an early stage in the development of appraisals and evaluations.

12.2 Use of consultants

12.2.1 Departments should apply the guidance on employment of consultants given in FD (DoF) 08/17. This updates guidance previously issued under the cover of FD(DFP)07/12 the updated guidance can be found at FD(DFP)07/12 attached guidance note. Further information on the assessment of large scale, complex or innovative external consultancy assignments can be found at FD(DFP)13/12. This section of NIGEAE does not attempt to cover all the details contained in that guidance, but it draws attention to some key points, particularly regarding approval procedures, business cases and evaluations.

12.2.2 The expenditure associated with engagement of consultants is subject to delegated limits. Departments must abide by delegated limits and fulfil any attached conditions before a contract is awarded.

Ministerial approval

Section 3.7.2 of the FD(DFP)07/12 attached guidance note indicates that ministerial approval should be obtained for external consultancy assignments costing more than £10,000. Each department should establish the extent to which their minister wishes to be informed of consultancy expenditure. Departments should seek ministerial approval for all external consultancy assignments expected to exceed £10,000 or any other threshold set by individual departmental ministers.

DoF approval

Each department must abide by the delegated limit set out at para 3.7.3 of the FD(DFP)07/12 attached ​guidance note, namely that each separate engagement of external consultants by departments expected to cost over £75,000 (or otherwise agreed with DoF) must have prior DoF approval. All business cases submitted to DoF must have the approval of the departmental accounting officer and confirmation of ministerial approval if necessary before they will be considered. If DoF approval is not obtained, all expenditure incurred will be irregular. Only in exceptional circumstances and where it is satisfied that such approval is justified, will DoF give retrospective approval. Where a contract, including contract extension, is expected to overrun by at least 10 per cent of the original DoF approval, a fresh DoF approval will be required.

Departmental approval

Each sponsored body will have a delegated limit agreed with its sponsor department above which it must refer to its sponsor department for approval before engaging external consultants.

12.2.3 External consultants should be employed only when it is necessary and will provide value for money. If a department has staff with the skills to carry out a proposed assignment, for example; internal consultancy units, ISU/IT staff, economists, accountants, construction professionals, then it should consider carrying out the assignment using its own resources. NICS core departments and executive agencies should contact the Business Consultancy Service (BCS), within Public Service Reform Division (PSRD) to establish whether it has the capability and capacity to undertake the assignment.

12.2.4 Engagement of external consultants may be necessary when:

  • internal capacity is unavailable to undertake a new area of work
  • independence/objectivity is required and cannot be provided within the public sector
  • specialist knowledge or expertise is unavailable internally
  • there is a direction to do so from government or by another body such as the EU

External consultancy business cases and PPEs

12.2.5 Before deciding to engage external consultants, departments must be sure that the benefits of doing so will outweigh the cost and that all in-house alternatives have been fully explored and documented. A full, but proportionate, business case confirming this should be completed for all external consultancy contracts expected to cost in total £10,000 or more, and submitted to the relevant approving authority.

12.2.6 Section 3 of the FD(DFP)07/12 attached guidance note explains the nature of the necessary business case. In brief, it should set out:

  1. the purpose of the assignment
  2. a reasoned assessment of the alternatives to external resources, and particularly the justification for using external consultants.  Where it is decided not to use internal consultants a full explanation must be provided for this decision
  3. the immediate and long-term outputs and benefits expected from the external consultancy resources, when they are likely to accrue and how they will be measured
  4. the proposed project management arrangements, including management of deliverables, expectations and risks
  5. the means by which skills/expertise will be transferred to in-house staff and/or internal consultants if appropriate. If not appropriate, the business case should state the reasons why it is not appropriate
  6. the proposed division of work between the external consultants and any in-house staff and/or internal consultants who will be assisting them
  7. the expected costs of both the external and the in-house effort
  8. potential risks and uncertainties associated with the assignment
  9. the performance review arrangements
  10. how the results of the external consultancy will be implemented and monitored
  11. any other considerations specific to the assignment

12.2.7 The business case template provided on AFMD website should be used in all cases to ensure that the above issues are covered in appropriate detail, with effort proportionate to the expenditure involved.

12.2.8 Post-project evaluations (PPE) should be completed with proportionate effort for all assignments to ensure that the objectives have been met and lessons learned. The PPE template should be used. PPEs for all assignments that require DoF approval should be copied to the relevant DoF Supply Division. DoF will also undertake test drilling exercises for assignments within departmental delegated limits.

12.2.9 All consultancy assignments, other than those of a very low value, should be procured through a Centre of Procurement Expertise (CoPE), unless otherwise approved directly by the accounting officer. Once a department is satisfied of the need to engage consultants, it must contact a nominated CoPE for advice and information as early as possible in the planning stages. Departments wishing to use a consultancy framework let by the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) should first consult DoF's Central Procurement Directorate (CPD) who will advise whether it is appropriate to do so or not.

12.2.10 Departments should supply clear terms of reference for the job when contacting the relevant CoPE, and should factor adequate time for tender responses and evaluation into their planning.

12.2.11 Terms of reference should be suitably detailed. For example, it is not generally sufficient to ask consultants broadly to conduct a Green Book assessment for a proposal. This is because, although the Green Book sets out relevant general principles, the specific methodology required in individual cases can vary enormously e.g. the method required for appraising assistance to industry is very different to that required for a major capital project; and methods can also vary significantly between different types of capital project. Moreover, some of the requirements of NIGEAE are simply not covered in the Green Book, such as details of affordability assessments and project management arrangements. Therefore, the specific requirements for each key element of the business case (or other relevant assignment) should be spelt out in detail in a manner that is tailored to suit the case in view.

12.2.12 Departmental economists can assist to draft the terms of reference for external economic assignments and to monitor and quality assure their implementation and completion.

12.2.13 In cases involving financial assistance to the non-government sectors, some departments previously provided funding to project promoters to employ external consultants to undertake appraisals and business cases. However, it is now considered that a more independent assessment will be obtained if the department or other funding body employs the consultants rather than the project promoter. This encourages greater objectivity and allows more direct control over the quality of the appraisals provided by consultants, and is now the generally recommended approach.

12.2.14 Additional guidance in relation to external consultancy input to PPP projects is provided in HM Treasury Taskforce Technical Note 3 How to Appoint and Manage Advisors to PFI Projects.

12.3 Training courses in appraisal and evaluation

12.3.1 Departmental economists can supply general advice on training in appraisal and evaluation. They can provide informal training in appraisal and evaluation, and may undertake formal briefings, seminars and courses on demand.

12.3.2 The Centre for Applied Learning (CAL) currently provides three appraisal training courses for Northern Ireland civil servants, which are led by experienced DoF economists:

Northern Ireland Guide to Expenditure Appraisal and Evaluation (NIGEAE).

This half-day course provides an introduction to NIGEAE and its importance in the decision-making process. It introduces the key elements of business cases, economic appraisal and the DoF approval process but does not go into great detail about the technicalities. It is aimed at managers and other personnel who are interested in reviewing appraisals and business cases or understanding their results but do not require a very detailed knowledge of the ‘nuts and bolts’.

Developing a Business Case for Small Expenditure Decisions (Under £1m)

This is a one-day course targeted at the needs of personnel involved in business cases for relatively small expenditures; that is, those under £1m. To assist with learning, the course participants will work through a case study example, filling in a business case template consistent with NIGEAE. This courses is aimed at staff who are currently, or likely to become involved in developing or reviewing business cases for small scale (under £1m) projects or policies. It is not necessary to attend the half-day introductory course prior to attending this course.

Developing a Business Case for Large Expenditure Decisions (over £1m)

This is a more in-depth two-day course which works though the 10 steps of economic appraisal using a case study to illuminate some of the practical components of developing business cases and economic appraisals for relatively large expenditure proposals; that is, those costing over £1m in total. This course is designed for personnel wishing to develop a practical working knowledge of the key steps in developing a business case or economic appraisal. It is suitable for those who are becoming practically involved in the preparation of business cases for large expenditures or who want a comparatively detailed knowledge for review purposes. It is not necessary to attend the half-day introductory course prior to attending this course.

12.3.3 Training in project and programme management skills is also available through CAL. For example, Practical Project Management (three days) focuses on the processes and key roles within project work and takes participants through the components and techniques of PRINCE2. (The PRINCE2 Foundation examination is not included in this event).

12.3.4 Further details on the full suite of project and programme training courses offered by CAL, can be viewed in the training prospectus on the CAL intranet site.

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