This page is part of our decision support tool.

Check that your programme has both of the following two forms of approval from Parliament:

  • Vires. This is power in legislation for the government body to carry out the activity envisaged in the policy intent of the programme. If you are unsure whether vires exist in a particular case, you must consult your organisation’s legal adviser
  • Appropriation [Footnote 1]. This is Parliament’s allocation of money to the programme. If you are unsure whether appropriation (or Treasury approval to spend) exists in a particular case, you must consult your organisation’s finance department.

As well as Parliamentary approval, provision will need to be made for your programme in your organisation’s internal budgeting; you should consult your finance department for advice on this.

EU restrictions on state aid

[Footnote 2]

Check your programme would not be a state aid. EU law on state aid aims to prevent member states from unfairly distorting competition within the EU, except in certain permitted circumstances. A state aid exists if all of the following four criteria apply to the proposed programme:

  • It is granted by the state or through state resources
  • It favours certain undertakings or the production of certain goods
  • It distorts or threatens to distort competition
  • It has the potential to affect trade within the EU.

You should take a sensible approach, based on risk assessment, to the application of state aid rules. If you are concerned that your proposed programme might meet the four criteria above, consult the EU or state aid advisers in your organisation.

Establish objectives for your programme

The more clarity you can achieve at this stage, the more straightforward later decisions will be, and the more successful implementation of the programme is likely to be.

In establishing objectives for your programme, you should consider six factors:

  • Form: ensure the objectives are expressed in SMART [Footnote 3] terms.
  • Focus: ensure the objectives focus on outcomes [Footnote 4].
  • Scope: ensure the objectives meet the requirements of economy, efficiency and effectiveness (see ‘General principles‘ in the Introduction to this tool).
  • Integration across government: most government bodies have a primary purpose: for example, health or education or national security. But some objectives of government as a whole can only be achieved if different government bodies act together. These are known as ‘cross-cutting’ objectives. If your ministers wish your programme to contribute to any cross-cutting objectives as well as to the organisation’s primary purpose, specify that contribution in the programme’s objectives [Footnote 5].
  • Duration of the programme: what timescale will be needed to achieve the programme’s objectives? Reach at least a preliminary view on this at the outset.
  • Reach of the programme: are there particular groups of clients or other ‘niches’ that the programme needs to reach to achieve its objectives? If so, you may need to construct your funding model to facilitate the involvement of organisations with relevant expertise.


  1. See Section 2 of Government Accounting for more information.
  2. For more information see Annex C: Note on state aid
  3. Specific, Measurable, Achievable/agreed, Realistic, Time-bound.
  4. Desired outcomes are the desired end result of the programme – what impact it should have. Outcomes should then drive decisions on ‘upstream’ issues:
  5. In theory, almost all government objectives are interdependent and so could be classed as cross-cutting. In this DST we use the term pragmatically to mean those that are most interdependent. These objectives arise, in particular, in the social and environmental domains of sustainable development, in which the causes of problems are often interrelated and the solutions are often interdependent. For example, measures to encourage the use of public transport in order to cut traffic congestion may also improve air quality, cut accident rates and reduce social exclusion by providing easier access to employment opportunities. This was an important part of the rationale for the establishment of cross-cutting units in government, such as the Social Exclusion Unit. It is important, however, not to think of TSOs’ potential contribution only in relation to social and environmental domains.

Table of contents

Decision support tool: Table of contents

Previous page

Stage 2. Strategic decisions

Next page

Choose a funding channel