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WMCA Single Assurance Framework - Feb 2024

The SAF: Project Lifecycle Process


The SAF is designed to be used as guidance to project developers and sponsors to understand the processes associated with the application and the route to approval of all external funding opportunities. Where financial liability is placed onto the WMCA, the SAF is applicable throughout the four stages of the project or programme lifecycle: initiation, development, approvals and delivery. The SAF provides consistency of approach for Assurance, independent Appraisal, and smart decision-making across all funding pots. Furthermore, it allows proportionality to be applied for the development of business cases via defined development routes. The SAF does not apply to projects or programmes that are defined as corporate, continuous improvement or BAU activity.

A corporate project

A corporate project is created to address an internal business need, benefitting the organisation, for example, a change to the operating systems of the organisation. Risk Management should be considered with risks reviewed as part of activity. Once a corporate project is completed, it may become BAU. A Corporate Project should aim to address Corporate Aim 6. (Develop our organisation and be a Good Regional Partner). A corporate project can go through the Change Gateway, a sub-group of CMT (Corporate Management Team) where specialists in Finance, Projects, Digital & Data and Human Resources where applicable will review and support the strengthening of the business case and the identified benefits including whether the resources, both financial and people, are in place to deliver.

A SAF Project

Projects and Programmes which follow the SAF are focussed on achieving positive outcomes for the local community. They are typically funded by external sources such as devolution deals and bid applications/grant awards from Central Government, for example, the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement (CRSTS) and the Investment Programme, where the WMCA is the accountable body. The SAF is applied flexibly and proportionately, dependent upon the level of risk associated with a Project or Programme. The SAF enables an independent assessment and appraisal of an investment opportunity. Programmes and Projects following the SAF route should aim to address one or more of the Corporate Aims (1 to 5). The SAF process enables accountability, including public engagement, probity, transparency, legal compliance and VFM to be applied, and includes processes for oversight of projects, programmes and how the progress and impacts of these investments will be monitored, reported on and evaluated.

The SAF has been developed to ensure:

  • significant financial and governance protections exist for the stewardship of public funds
  • delivery of high standards of project development, approval, delivery and oversight
  • the independent Risk and Investment Appraisal Report on each business case provides impartial advice to the relevant decision making bodies to make the decision. These decision making bodies are outlined in 4.10, 4.11 & 4.12. The Investment Board and WMCA Board include local authority representation
  • where appropriate independent technical advice is sought before going to the appropriate decision making authority
  • trust is built in the organisation’s officer expertise
  • that consistency, controls and clarity are embedded to deliver confidence in the WMCA’s decision-making and ability to deliver
  • political and reputational risk is effectively managed
  • additional funding is secured into the region, by driving continuous improvement of the quality of external funding applications/submissions.


The SAF sets out the appropriate process for the risk and investment profile of a Project or Programme and incorporates guidance on business case and supporting project management documentation required together with the standards and criteria that need to be met to help drive effective project management. Out of Directorate second line of defence assurance and appraisal processes are also incorporated within SAF processes together with additional guidance and templates to drive consistency of approach. These are available on Single Assurance Framework internet page and on the intranet. The following diagram provides an overview of the SAF process.

Value for Money

A key objective of the SAF is to support WMCA in making investments that represent the best VFM. All business cases seeking approval are assessed against HM Treasury Green Book and the 5-case model.


The development of project ideas, and external funding opportunities are Directorate-led and co-ordinated/managed using Directorate Activity Registers and the External Funding Application Register. Appendix 5.6 details the External Funding Application Process. This process ensures that the Section 151 Officer and the Executive Board are aware of all potential applications for funding ensuring risks, any conditions of funding, and the resources needed to deliver a project or programme of activity are considered, (with approval given to proceed) should the application be successful.

Purpose of the annual plan

The WMCA Annual Business Plan demonstrates how organisational objectives, Directorate plans and programme and project activity support overarching economic strategies, demonstrating a ‘golden thread’ approach. The purpose of the Annual Business Plan is to:

  • articulate the WMCA priorities for the year so that partners and stakeholders understand the key areas of focus
  • provide a strategic context for the WMCA as an organisation so its plans and operational activity are aligned to the overall vision and priorities
  • enable oversight and review of performance against priorities. It helps to demonstrate how High-Level Deliverables (HLDs) contribute towards delivering the overarching WMCA Policy Aims.

In-Year Proposals for the initiation of Projects/Programmes

Partner organisations may submit in-year Project/Programme Project Initiation Documents that are not included within the current Annual Plan. These will still be considered by the appropriate delegated authority.

New funding opportunities

During the year, there may be further unexpected funding opportunities that need to be pursued because of new or changes to existing Government initiatives and priorities or where there is a need to address emerging priorities. Initially, these opportunities will be discussed at Directorate level and progressed through Executive Board meetings. Where these instances emerge, they will be incorporated within the Directorate Activity Register and enter the SAF Initiation stage. Where necessary and appropriate, processes will be expedited to ensure that funding can be accessed quickly.

SAF Stage 1: Initiation

All proposals will be required to complete a Project Initiation Document (PID) before they can progress to the project development stage.

Project initiation, like the project development process that follows, is a Directorate led process. The Project Initiation Document (PID) contains key information about the proposal including its strategic fit, development route to be followed, affordability/funding requirements and equality assessment. Directorates should engage the following subject matter experts when developing a PID:

  • Finance Representative/Business Partner
  • Legal Business Partner
  • Procurement Business Partner
  • Programme Assurance & Appraisal Team Representative


When a PID is developed, the project is also added to Directorate Activity Registers for discussion at Directorate Pipeline Meetings. The decision to proceed is made according to the delegated authorities.

The PID/project proposal will either:

enter the strategic planning stage, if it is an in-year submission not included in the Annual Business Plan. In such a circumstance the Executive Director can accept the principle of the proposal and submit it to the strategic planning process for consideration for inclusion in future Annual Plans, or,

  • be rejected/deferred.


A decision to reject will be taken if:

  • it is decided that an Annual Business Plan item is no longer deliverable
  • or a strategic fit exists due to changes that have occurred since it was added to the Annual Plan
  • if an in-year submission is not deemed to fit strategically with the WMCAs Strategic Objectives.


The PID must be completed and have received Finance (S151) approval, before moving to the development stage. The decision to proceed, also mandates any initial (seed) funding to complete any feasibility study and/or development of the project.

Directorate Pipeline Meetings

Each Directorate records its own project activity on the Directorate Activity Register. Directorate project leads log projects that are in one of the stages of development and delivery and, whether external funding is being bid for, or being offered by the sponsoring Government Department. The Directorate Meeting is held with the Programme Assurance and Appraisal’s Centre of Excellence (CoE), along with wider members of Enabling Services such as Finance Business Partners, Procurement and Business Improvement Team members. External Funding Applications, grants or projects are reviewed to ensure that the project developers have the information/templates they need to develop the project. The CoE will also provide indicative dates of the stages that the project will go through to approval.

The WMCA Executive Board receive a monthly External Funding Application Register for review and approval during their scheduled meetings, and with the appropriate Executive Director held accountable for all Initiation decisions they make. From a scrutiny perspective, the Policy Working Group will also review the register to ensure strategic alignment to WMCA and regional priorities.

If a business case crosses several Directorates/Portfolios, then CoE should advise on who the lead Directorate is.

SAF Stage 2: Development

The Development Phase follows Initiation; this is the stage where the relevant business case(s) is/ are developed, and where out of Directorate assurance activity takes place prior to the business case progressing onto the approvals stage. This stage needs to be repeated whenever a business case is developed and requires approval. Support and guidance through this stage is provided by the Programme Assurance and Appraisal team. The CoE will provide guidance on the business case development route of a project is, i.e., the number and type of business cases to be completed.

The business case is developed by the sponsoring Directorate or external delivery partner, ensuring that its content meets the required standard defined within WMCA guidance (Templates and Guidance). All WMCA business case templates and guidance incorporate HM Treasury Green Book requirements and capture how the scheme will support WMCA Policy Aims and Objectives. The business case sponsor is required to demonstrate within the business case how the scheme will meet any funding conditions and/or delivery milestone dates/requirements. Where the sponsors/delivery partners are external to the WMCA. they will be supported through the process by the lead Directorate within the WMCA. The sponsor is responsible for engaging subject matter experts from key enabling services in the development of their business case:

  • the Finance Business Partner should review/input/provide assurance of the Financial Case
  • the Procurement Business Partner should review/input into the Commercial Case to ensure an appropriate procurement strategy is developed
  • the Legal Business Partner should review content/input into the Commercial Case to ensure any funding agreements and/or contractual arrangements are developed appropriately
  • technical input may be required for subject matter experts within delivery directorates (e.g., specific input for transport and active travel schemes). The Delivery Directorate and/or CoE will advise on the engagement required.

The Programme Assurance and Appraisal team, via the CoE should be engaged prior to the development of a business case, to ensure an appropriate development route and timeline through to approval is agreed. The lead Directorate is responsible for ensuring they, any partners, or the sponsor meet deadlines, engage the appropriate subject matter experts and technical appraisers and adhere to required formats when developing a business case. The Programme Assurance and Appraisal team can provide advice on the requirements of the SAF if needed, at the start of and during the Business Case development stage. Sponsors must ensure their business case is developed and is aligned with any external development and assurance requirements (driven by Government Departments), with the aim to eliminate duplication of effort. Where projects are funded through multiple funding streams, the proportionate SAF approach will be agreed by the appropriate delegated authority and implemented.

Early engagement with the Programme Assurance and Appraisal Team is key to ensure any recommendations will be addressed and business cases can be updated within the timescales agreed.

SAF Stage 3: Approvals (Governance)

In order to achieve better decision making, the SAF looks to enable:

  • the appropriate initiation process that drives strategic fit
  • the proportionate business case development process that meets national and WMCA standards of best practice development
  • expertise within Directorates to be used develop required business cases
  • out of Directorate/second line of defence assurance principles and processes to assess the maturity of business cases and undertake risk & investment appraisal
  • support to focus Board considerations and inform the decision-making process.

In addition to an Assurance Observations Report being produced following the maturity assessment and subsequent update of business cases, an independent out of directorate summary Investment Risk and Appraisal Report will be produced to the decision-making process of the key risks and opportunities associated with the business case.

The process enables:

  • decision-makers at all levels to base their decisions upon objective, evidence-based out of Directorate findings and recommendations- in turn driving better decision-making
  • increased Executive Director ownership and delegation
  • increased Statutory Officer ownership and oversight
  • increased levels of Assurance and Appraisal team support to Panels and Boards
  • approvals based on proportionate financial delegation i.e., a request of £50,000 will not scrutinised to the same level of a request for £5million
  • the time taken to reach an approval decision being reflective of the level of financial ask.

The business case route is dictated by delegated approval authority/Approval level or the value of the Project. The approval process begins following successful progression through WMCAs Development stage.

Key SAF documentation

The level of approval required is required is determined by the level of financial commitment,

The following diagram provides an overview of the documentation is needed depending on the approval route.

Business Cases

  • Business Case

  • Business Case Appendices

  • Risk and Investment Appraisal Report / Dashboard

  • Assurance Observations Report

Change Control

  • Change Request Form

  • Change Request Appendices

  • Risk and Investment Appraisal Report / Dashboard

WMCA Board Cover Report - £20M>

Business Cases

  • Business Case

  • Business Case Appendices

  • Risk and Investment Appraisal Report / Dashboard

  • Assurance Observations Report

Change Control

  • Change Request Form

  • Change Request Appendices

  • Risk and Investment Appraisal Report / Dashboard

Investment Board Cover Report - £5M - £20M

Business Cases

  • Business Case

  • Business Case Appendices

  • Risk and Investment Appraisal Report

  • Assurance

  • Observations Report

Change Control

  • Change Request Form

  • Change Request Appendices

  • Risk and Investment

    Appraisal Report

£1M - £5M

Business Cases

  • Business Case

  • Business Case Appendices

  • Risk and Investment

Appraisal Summary

  • Assurance Observations Report

Change Control

  • Change Request Form

  • Change Request Appendices


Further details regarding the purpose of each template can be found in Appendix 5.5

All approvals are required to undergo an independent Risk & Investment Appraisal of a business case that is designed to provide the sponsor/Directorate assessment. The independent Risk & Investment Appraisal is undertaken by Programme Investment Appraisers within the Programme Assurance & Appraisal team, its purpose is to provide a report identifying the risk and opportunities profile to help inform decision-makers. A proportionate approach is applied to the level of Appraisal completed in lieu of the financial ask; a one-day Summary Appraisal is completed for items under £1million whereas a five-day comprehensive Appraisal Report is created for items over £1million.

The Risk & Investment Appraisal involves analysis of information within a business case, providing an objective perspective on:

  • analysis of content across HMT’s 5-case model as outlined within the Green Book
  • review and verify the evidence base/content of the Economic Case for accuracy
  • analysis of Net Present Social Value and Social Impact
  • analysis of risks and opportunities associated with delivery/cost/time/funding
  • analysis of financial, regulatory, investment, reputational and other risks and proposed risk mitigations as outlined within the WMCA’s Strategic Risk Framework.


The report will set out the following impartial advice to inform the decision makers:

  • an assessment of the level of risks and opportunities in approving that Business Case
  • observations on how the level of risk could be mitigated, including cost, including the post mitigation risk level.

Approval Levels

Approvals Up to £1million

For Project / Programme approvals, the relevant Executive Directors have delegated approval for business cases up to the value of £1million.

For Investment Programme approvals, the relevant Executive Director will also require the approval of the Investment Programme Senior Responsible Officer (SRO).

A high-level independent Risk and Investment Appraisal Report is completed to inform the decision-maker of the key risks, opportunities, and approval recommendation to inform their decision. This Report is submitted to the Executive Director alongside sponsor owned documentation such as the Business Case and any required appendices. Decisions taken by the Executive Director are captured in a log held in the Directorate.

The Project Lead/Sponsor will communicate the decision to Enabling Services and any external applicant (if applicable). This will ensure effective mobilisation of the project.

Approvals Between £1million - £5million

These are considered to be Key Decisions and as such must be published on the WMCA public facing website at least 28 days before the decision is due to be made.

For these, Programme and Project paperwork will be submitted via the Modern.Gov platform including a covering report. Appraisal will upload the independent Risk and Investment Appraisal report ahead of the meeting where the decision will be made.

The Project Sponsor will submit Project paperwork, including a Cover Report. In tandem, the Appraisal Team will submit an independent Risk and Investment Appraisal Report. Approvals between £1million and £5million are reviewed and approved at the Designated Sign-Off Meeting, which consists of the following WMCA Officers:

  • Relevant Executive Director
  • Director of Finance (Section 151 Officer)
  • Director of Law and Governance (Monitoring Officer)
  • Project Lead/Sponsor (for the section of the meeting for the project requiring a decision)
  • Appraisal representative (to advise risks, opportunities and recommendation based on the outcome of appraisal activity.)

Non-Investment Programme funded business cases and approvals only require Designated Sign-Off Meeting consideration: however, Investment Programme funded business cases and approvals also require the involvement of the Investment Programme Senior Responsible Officer who, in such circumstances, will attend the meeting to provide input into the decision-making process. The independent Risk and Investment Appraisal Report highlights the key risks for consideration. Governance will record the decision taken (with any conditions) and will communicate it to the Project Lead/Sponsor and Enabling Services. If the Delivery Partner is external, the Project Lead/Sponsor will communicate the decision to them.

Approvals of £5million and above

These are considered to be Key Decisions and as such must be published on the WMCA public facing website at least 28 days before the decision is due to be made.

For these, the Project Lead/Sponsor will submit all Programme and Project paperwork via the Modern.Gov platform including an Investment Board covering report. Appraisal will upload the independent Risk and Investment Appraisal report at least 6 clear working days ahead of the Investment Board Meeting.

Approvals above £5million are above the levels of officer approval delegations and must therefore be considered and approved by Boards consisting of regional political representatives (from local authorities.) Decision-makers are asked to consider the Business Case and the independent Risk & Investment Appraisal Report when making a decision.

The Project Lead/Sponsor attends the meeting to present the Business Case and answer any queries. Whilst the Appraisal representative attends to highlight any key risks, opportunities and their recommendation to the decision-makers.

To support decision-making boards, and the Investment Panel will review business cases and supporting documentation to support effective decision-making by:

  • identifying key lines of enquiry for the Investment Board to focus on
  • validating and challenging business case content
  • validating and challenging external review of the business case
  • validating and challenging the quality and robustness of business case content
  • ensuring a consistent approach to challenging HM Treasury’s 5 case elements within Business Cases
  • examining the Risk and Investment Appraisal to understand key risks, opportunities and recommendations.

The Investment Panel will provide the Investment Board with a recorded discussion for each proposal, noting observations to consider, including the strengths and weaknesses of a proposal, observations on the level of investment risk and providing any recommendations for improvement or to mitigate risks. This may lead to additional conditions to be added to funding agreements, conditions for withdrawal of support, additions to M&E plans.

The Investment Board includes local authority and independent business sector representation including being chaired by a local authority representative.

Governance will record the decision taken (with any conditions) and will communicate it to the Project Lead/Sponsor and Enabling Services. If the Delivery Partner is external, the Project Lead/ Sponsor will communicate the decision to them.

Approvals of £20million and above

These are considered to be Key Decisions and as such must be published on the WMCA public facing website at least 28 days before the decision is due to be made.

There is an additional role for WMCA Board in approving Programmes and Project approvals that are above £20million. For these, Programme and Project paperwork will be submitted via the Modern.Gov platform including the Board Report and Appraisal will upload the final Risk and Investment Appraisal report at least 6 days ahead of the WMCA Board Meeting. The proposal will first be considered by the Investment Board who will then make recommendations to the WMCA Board.

The WMCA Board membership includes local authority representation and it’s terms of reference are laid down in the WMCA Constitution.

Governance will record the decision taken (with any conditions) on Modern.Gov and will communicate it to the Project Lead/Sponsor and Enabling Services. If the Delivery Partner is external, the Project Lead/Sponsor will communicate the decision to them.

Subsidy Control

WMCA will ensure that all projects comply with Subsidy Control law (formerly State Aid).

Subsidy is where a public authority provides support to an enterprise that gives them an economic advantage, meaning equivalent support could not have been obtained on commercial terms. This could include, for example, a cash payment, a loan with interest below the market rate or the free use of equipment or office space.

Subsidies should be given in the public interest, to address a market failure or equity concern.

To minimise these risks and increase the likelihood that subsidies achieve positive outcomes, the UK subsidy control regime regulates subsidies given in the UK to prevent any excessively distortive or harmful effects. Subsidy control considerations will be made with the advice of relevant professionals in accordance with guidance.

Management of Contracts

Following approval, the Legal Team will send out a Funding Offer Letter, which includes the following: Project Name, Applicant, Maximum Funding Contribution (£), with details regarding when payment was to be issued, (usually connected to milestones), what is Eligible Expenditure, Commencement and Completion dates. Contracts are managed within the individual Directorates to provide a link to the outputs and outcomes of the projects/programmes.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The WMCA Performance Management Framework has been developed in accordance with HM Treasury’s Magenta (Guidance for Evaluation) and Green (Guidance on Appraisal and Evaluation) Books. The overall approach to monitoring and evaluation is underpinned by the following key principles:

  • robust internal controls providing a second line of defence
  • adequate resources are in place and detailed in the business case
  • monitoring requirements are locally defined, proportionate and reported to the Executive Board in a consistent fashion
  • baseline information is consistent across key projects and programmes
  • basic process evaluation is conducted internally and more detailed evaluation is commissioned
  • data is collected once and used many times to inform other critical documents, such as the Annual Business Plan.
  • lessons learned are used to inform future projects and programmes.

All projects that go through our SAF, will have an effective monitoring and evaluation M&E plan in place which will form a key part of the business case. This will help assess the effectiveness and impact of investing public funds, and the identification of best practice and lessons learnt that can inform decisions about future delivery. Logic chains will guide the collection of data from individual projects during both stages of M&E and will be designed to ensure that it meets the requirements of WMCA and the Government.

This framework aims to ensure that these commitments are delivered by setting out the approach, principles, role and responsibilities for the monitoring and evaluation of projects and programmes both in the Devolution Deal and within any wider Combined Authority activity.

Change Requests

Approval routes should always be led by the delegation amount; therefore, Change Requests do not need to be approved by the ‘original approver’ i.e., if it was approved by WMCA Board it does not need to go back to Board. The reason for this is that the original business case was approved by Board and to be sighted on a minor change could delay project progress and cause further time delays whilst awaiting the next meeting. On the occasion the change is deemed contentious, for example, where the scope of the original approved project has changed dramatically or by more than of 10% (generally measured by output quantity). In such instances, the approval decision will be made by the original approver.

Evaluation/Project Closure

Investment Programme Projects are evaluated in two stages. The first stage is led internally by the WMCA’s Investment Programme Monitoring and Evaluation Team and comprises the production of a Project Closure and Lessons Learnt Report in accordance with HM Treasury’s Green and Magenta Books. It reviews the milestones and success factors of the project vis-à-vis its proposed Delivery Plan:

  • to confirm outstanding issues, risks and mitigations, recommendations, and proposed course of action to resolve them
  • outline outstanding tasks and activities required to close the project, and
  • identify project highlights and best practice for future interventions.

As part of the funding agreement, the WMCA is required to undertake 5-year Gateway Reviews to assess the impact delivered by our investments led by an independent National Evaluation Panel.

The purpose of the National Evaluation Panel is to evaluate the impact of locally appraised interventions on economic growth in each locality to inform the Gateway Review and Ministerial decision-making on future funding.