All proposals to incur expenditure should be subject to a comprehensive, but proportionate business case. This page provides information on Better Business Cases NI (the new approach for preparing business cases), the templates for preparing business cases in accordance with Better Business Cases NI, information on DfE delegations (as set out by DfE Corporate Governance), and contact information for economists who can advise on the use of business case templates.

Better Business Cases NI (the new approach for preparing business cases)

Better Business Cases NI is the primary guide for Northern Ireland Departments on the appraisal and evaluation of projects, policies and programmes. The Better Business Cases website contains supporting materials that appraisers may find useful when developing a business case. These include a ‘Best Practice Guide’ to business cases, a ‘Plain English Guide’, as well as a checklist for what should be included in a business case.

It is recognised that there may be business cases in development that have been applying the pre-existing approach set out within the Northern Ireland Guide to Expenditure, Appraisal and Evaluation (NIGEAE). It is not the intention that these should now be changed to reflect the move to Better Business Cases NI. The NIGEAE website will remain available to facilitate the completion of business cases that have already commenced. However, business cases that are starting to be developed now should follow Better Business Cases NI.

Better Business Cases NI is based on the HM Treasury best practice approach to the development of business cases, known as the ‘Five Case Model’ . In the Five Case Model the basic process of appraisal and evaluation is largely the same as before, as is the information needed to produce a business case. The main difference is to emphasise the roles and responsibilities that are involved in preparing a business case.

The Five Case Model involves separating the business case into its five component parts, or ‘Cases’ - as follows:

  • Strategic Case
  • Economic Case
  • Commercial Case
  • Financial Case
  • Management Case

The five cases are not individual documents, they are the five sections of an overall business case - and they are interlinked and should not, therefore, be developed in isolation.

Presenting the information in this way is intended to help clarify who is responsible for developing the business case, and which specialist advisors should be involved in providing advice and support. The table below illustrates the specialist advisers that can provide advice for each case.

Five Case Model

Specialist Adviser

Strategic Case

Departmental Economists

Policy Advisers

Economic Case

Departmental Economists

Commercial Case

Commercial/Procurement Expertise (eg CPD-HP, PaLS or a relevant CoPE)

Financial Case

Departmental Finance Division

Management Case

Project Management Team/SRO

Templates for Preparing Business Cases (in accordance with Better Business Cases NI)

In order to assist NICS colleagues with the completion of business cases in accordance with Better Business Cases NI, colleagues at DoF have made templates available. These are designed to reflect the principle of proportionate effort.

Projects involving expenditure over £2m can use the template for £0.5 - £2m, and add more detail in proportion. The amount of detail required will depend on the complexity of the project as well as the level of expenditure.

Also provided are business case templates for proposals to engage an external resource, and for proposals relating to office accommodation.

The new business case pro formas are at:

DfE Delegations

DfE Corporate Governance have advised that approval levels are a separate issue to the proportionality of a business case. Therefore, while expenditure levels determine both the template and the approval that are required, the template and the approval must be considered separately. 

A business case should be prepared using the relevant template - as determined by DoF and made available above. A business case should be approved based on the delegations that are set out by DfE Corporate Governance, as shown in the table below.

Of note, an economist VfM statement is required for Grade 3 approval as well as for approval above the level of Grade 3. 

Proposed Level of Expenditure Level of Approval Required for all DfE expenditure
0 to £0.25m Grade 6 or Grade 7
>£0.25m to £1m Grade 5
>£1m to £5m Grade 3
>£5m Grade 3, Casework Committee scrutiny, Permanent Secretary, and Ministerial approval.
Expenditure that is novel, contentious, repercussive, sets a precedent (or subject to Ministerial Direction) irrespective of level of expenditure Grade 3, Casework Committee scrutiny (if appropriate following consideration by the Finance and Corporate Governance Directors), Permanent Secretary and Ministerial approval.
Exceptions Consultants
Ministerial approval required in all cases above this amount £10,000

Note 1:  Areas requiring DOF Approval for all Departments are documented in DAO (DFP) 06/12 Departmental Delegations/Requirements for DFP Approval

Note 2:  Delegated limits should be applied to the total central government monies required (inclusive of irrecoverable Value Added Tax)

Note 3:  Delegated limits should also be applied to proposals which will result in a positive monetary result. Future savings yielded through an ‘invest to save’ type project should be ignored in applying delegated limits.

DfE Economist Contacts

Email: analyticalservices@economy-ni.gov.uk

Back to top