Scheme of delegated approvals

The formal Scheme of delegated approvals sets out where decisions are made. It is based on the principle that decision making is devolved except where there is a valid reason for reserving decisions to a higher level of authority.

It is based on the principle that decision making is devolved except where there is a valid reason for reserving decisions to a higher level of authority.

1. Purpose

1.1 The Scheme of Delegated Approvals (SoDA) is a significantly revised and restructured version of the 2017 Scheme of Delegation and Decision Making.

Such a Scheme is a key pillar of a governance framework, and is intended to map, in headline form, the key approving body, group or individual(s) for a range of key University decisions.

The decisions covered in the SoDA are:

  • formal committee-based approvals, from Council as the governing body and trustee Board downwards
  • other decisions made/recommended by senior bodies, groups and individuals, which are formal transactions and need effective decision-making and recording processes around them.

1.2 Responsibility for custody of the SoDA sits with the Governance and Assurance Office, under the University Secretary. The document is subject to periodic review, eg annually, as a mechanism to ensure governance, policy, management and organisational changes are reflected within the document.

1.3 General and specific advice on interpretation of the SoDA should be directed to

2. Status

2.1 The SoDA was comprehensively revised from the 2017 version in 2021 as part of the Council Governance Effectiveness Review. The document has been updated to reflect changes to structures, formal bodies and role holders, and is organised by theme rather than by key body or role-holder.

Thematic tables set out key decisions, with columns for the ‘approving body/role-holder’ and ‘recommending body/holder’.

The tables embed links signposting to other documents, including the detailed online information on financial authorisations and procedures in the Financial Regulations and associated procedures as owned by the Finance Directorate.

2.2.1 The SoDA applies to the University and its subsidiaries but not to joint ventures, spin-outs or associated companies. See Appendix 2 of the Financial Regulations.

2.2.2 Hull York Medical School (HYMS) also has its own separate Scheme of Delegation.

Limitations of the SoDA

2.3 The SoDA is intended to be a headline document, and as a scheme it sets out key decisions and delegations at a high/formal level. It is not intended to give readers of it the regulatory, policy context or procedural or systems route map to achieve the approvals. The Governance and Assurance team can provide some advice here, but we may need to refer you to other colleagues including relevant committee chairs and secretaries and other supporting officers who oversee the specific area.

2.3.1 Except where indicated, the SoDA focuses on approving bodies, and will increasingly focus on individuals who are accountable to take decisions given their role. It does not identify who the signatories are for specific contracts and agreements, although it may help to indicate that.

2.4 The SoDA does not present an inventory of all University regulation, policy and procedures and approval routes for these, since this would make it unwieldy. We encourage colleagues to refer to the Institutional Policy Framework, which provides definitions for key document types from the University Strategy all the way through to Procedures and Guidance, and provides a steer on headline approvals.

Where minor changes are made to regulations, policy or procedures (for example, updated nomenclature and web references, clarifications, changes to formatting), these can be authorised by the document owner (ie the relevant senior professional support service colleague from the area in question). An audit trail should be maintained so that the formal approving body can be notified of these minor changes at the point at which more substantive changes to the document are proposed.

2.4.1 The authoritative or single reference point for all detailed financial regulations, authorities and procedures is the Financial Regulations and associated policies and regulations.

2.5 A range of gaps still exist in this version of the SoDA, including the approving points and recommendation routes for key decisions which perhaps have not needed to be taken before, or need to be untangled and rewired.

We are keen to hear from colleagues about what they would like to see in the SoDA while avoiding it becoming too voluminous.

3. Key decision-making bodies of the University

3.1 The University’s primary formal decision-making bodies are Council, Senate and UEB.

Council is the governing body and trustee board of the University, with ultimate accountability in legal and regulatory terms and under the University’s own ‘domestic legislation’ of its Charter and Statutes for the University, as set out in its statement of responsibilities.

Senate is the primary academic governance body, and the University Executive Board is the corporate executive board responsible for management of the University.

You will see reference to these three bodies in an approving and recommending capacity, and that of their subcommittees and groups throughout the document.

4. Principles of decision making at the University of York underpinned by the Strategy 2030

4.1 As a University for the Public Good we should ensure decisions are taken which are:

Accountable: decisions are evidence-based, transparent, represent an effective and efficient use of time and resources (value for money), are auditable and traceable, and able to be monitored and reviewed.

Responsible: decisions are guided by the ‘moral compass’ of the University Strategy, and made with integrity, in good faith, factoring in ethical considerations and in the best interests of the University as a whole.

Deliverable: decisions are proportionate to the matter addressed, have clear ownership and implementation routes and can be translated into action which is within scope and budget.

4.2 Accountable decision making

4.2.1 Accountable decisions should sit at the right level of authority, avoiding default escalation to senior bodies or individuals.

4.2.2 The most significant decisions should be taken by the senior committees/bodies of the University, to:

  • Ensure collective accountability
  • Empower and receive assurance from individuals or groups responsibility for bringing and implementing the decision via evidence and professionally-informed steers
  • Provide clear and timely feedback to those recommending a decision on the outcome
  • Champion and adhere to a committee/body’s decisions once agreed.

4.2.3 Decision making should be delayered and streamlined where possible, and sub-groups or individuals empowered to take decisions, while noting:

  • The need to escalate decisions on complex or high risk matters on a case-by-case basis
  • The importance of keeping clear audit trails of how, why, when and by whom a key decision was made.

Committee leads should review regularly how their committees and associated subcommittees and groups operate to ensure that these structures are agile and fit for purpose, including frequency of meetings.

Committees can be disbanded by agreement with their ‘parent body’ where there is a strong case to do so, provided that senior bodies are not then burdened with an inappropriate level of detail.

Alternatives such as empowering particular role-holders and/or seeking advice and input from a wider group on an ad hoc basis should be considered, with task and finish groups set up to carry forward particular time-limited tasks.

4.2.4 ‘Discuss once, decide once, then delegate’: repeat discussions of the same matter should be avoided. Once an item has been discussed and decisions taken, individuals or groups below the decision-makers should be trusted to move forward with implementation and provide assurance as needed.

4.2.5 Decisions made (and action needed to deliver them) should be proportionate, and reflect the nature and degree of risk and sensitivity associated with them.

4.2.6 Decisions are seldom irrevocable. Adjustments to decisions will need to be made on occasions, for matters within and outside the University's control.

4.2.7 Transparency of decision making to relevant stakeholders is key where this is possible, but at the appropriate time to avoid prejudicing the decision or those involved in or impacted by it.

4.3 Responsible decision making

4.3.1 All decisions taken should be made with integrity, honesty and in the best interests of the University.

4.3.2 Colleagues should escalate a matter for decision once risk and impact have been assessed, if significant material issues have been identified.

4.3.3 Decisions which have wider implications beyond an individual's area should be referred to another individual/group who is not conflicted by or complicit in the decision.

4.3.4 A 'no surprises' culture should exist at all levels of the organisation in terms of decisions or any implications arising from them, so those accountable are informed and in a position to act where required.

4.3.5 (Delegation of) decision making should always comply with internal and external regulatory requirements.

4.4 Deliverable decision making

4.4.1 The individual or groups responsible for originating the basis for a decision should be responsible for its delivery, to its agreed scope and timescale.

4.4.2 Senior bodies, groups and individuals will champion and sponsor decisions, but would not normally give specific direction on the detailed framework and steps to deliver a decision to those to whom delivery is delegated.

4.4.3 Clear next steps, timescales, risk and milestones are set out and cascaded by those responsible for delivery to the appropriate groups, to ensure a decision can be delivered and monitored.

Approved by Council 28 July 2021; revised 27 July 2022; revised July 2023 (CNC on behalf of Council)

Related links

Related links