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A Guide to Appropriations - November 2013

Adaptability to Changing Circumstances

Appropriations are set at a fixed point in time and need to be able to respond to unanticipated changes in Ministers’ priorities, the economy, or within departments. Therefore a certain amount of flexibility has been built into the system to respond to changing circumstances while still maintaining Parliament’s control of public finances.

Imprest Supply

  • When additional or increased appropriations are required, imprest supply (as described in the previous section of this guidance) can be used by Ministers to provide the necessary authority.
  • All increases in appropriations (other than via Minister of Finance approval under s26B PFA 1989) that are approved outside the budget process need to have a specific Cabinet decision that they are met from imprest supply until they can be appropriated.

Authority to Use Resources in an Emergency

  • In the event of a national disaster or civil emergency, the government may need to act quickly and use resources for which it does not have an appropriation.
  • In such situations the government has the ability to incur emergency expenses or capital expenditure without an appropriation (s25 PFA 1989) or to make emergency capital injections to departments without parliamentary authority (s25A PFA 1989).
  • No limits apply in this situation but a statement about any amounts incurred or injections made must appear in the Financial Statements of the Government and an Appropriation (Financial Review) Bill for confirmation.
  • These provisions are seldom used as imprest supply is usually sufficient to respond to most natural disaster or civil emergency situations. They were used in relation to the February 2011 Canterbury Earthquakes.

Transfers between Appropriations

  • It is also possible to transfer amounts between appropriations during a financial year or from one year to another. The rules that guide this process are currently set out in Cabinet Office Circular CO (11) 6.
  • If a transfer between appropriations (or periods) is deemed not to represent a significant policy change it can be approved by joint Ministers. Transfers of this nature are usually completed through the two baseline update processes in March and October of each year and are given parliamentary approval through the Appropriation (Supplementary Estimates) Bill.
  • If a transfer between appropriations represents a significant policy change then the change requires Cabinet approval. The process is the same as for a new initiative and requires explicit authorisation for the increase in appropriation to be charged against imprest supply in the interim.
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