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Frequently Asked Questions

The Scottish Government receives many questions from users about the GERS publication. Below is a summary of some of the most frequently asked questions and their answers.

Responses to detailed queries about specific revenue or expenditure items are available here.

General FAQs:

Q: What does GERS show?

A: GERS estimates the level of public revenue raised in Scotland and the level of public spending for the residents of Scotland, under the current constitutional arrangements.

Q: Is GERS a description of the whole Scottish economy?

A : No. GERS reports only on public sector revenue and expenditure. Although these may be affected by economic performance, GERS does not directly report on Scotland's wider economy. If users are interested in the measurement of the economy as a whole, they should examine other economic statistics products, such as the quarterly Gross Domestic product figures (www.gov.scot/gdp) or Quarterly National Accounts Scotland (QNAS, www.gov.scot/snap). These publications provide real terms growth in the economy, and GDP in cash or nominal terms and its components.

Q: What is the public sector?

The public sector contains all government bodies, and all bodies which are controlled by government. This includes publicly controlled businesses, such as Scottish Water or the Bank of England. Following recent decisions by the ONS, housing associations are now included in the public sector. In GERS, the Scottish Government, Scottish Local Authorities, and the public corporations they control, such as Scottish Water and Scottish housing associations, are all considered to be Scottish bodies. All other UK public sector bodies are described as ‘Other UK Government bodies’.

Q: Who produces GERS?

A: GERS is produced by Scottish Government statisticians. It is designated as a National Statistics product, which means that it is produced independently of Scottish Ministers and has been assessed by the UK Statistics Authority as being produced in line with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. This means the statistics have been found to meet user needs, to be methodologically sound, explained well and produced free of political interference.

Q: How do you decide on changes that are made to GERS?

A: In line with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics, changes are only made to GERS after consultation and discussion with users. This includes discussion at the annual Scottish Economic Statistics Consultation Group,[2] which brings together users of economic statistics from industry, academia and the wider public sector. An annual consultation exercise, open to all, is also carried out every year to allow all users of GERS to comment on planned and suggested changes to GERS.

Q: Do you use company headquarters to assign corporation tax or taxes like VAT?

A: Corporation tax on trading profits is estimated on a company-by-company basis, depending on the economic activity each company has in Scotland, not location of company headquarters. VAT is a consumption tax, and is therefore estimated based on purchases that are made in Scotland, rather than the location of a company's head office.

Q: How do taxes from the whisky industry feature in the GERS estimates?

A: Like any industry, the whisky industry's activity in Scotland generates tax revenue through a range of sources, such as corporation tax on profits, income tax and national insurance contributions on staff earnings, and non-domestic rates payments on business premises. These are all captured in the estimates of Scottish public sector receipts reported in GERS.

In addition, whisky consumed in the UK is subject to VAT and alcohol duty. This is assigned to Scotland on the basis of how much is consumed in Scotland. Whisky which is exported does not generate UK VAT or alcohol duty. There is no export duty in the UK.

Q: What are Accounting Adjustments and why do they feature in the GERS estimates?

A: Accounting adjustments are used to present revenue and expenditure on a National Accounts basis, the international reporting standards used by governments. They normally reflect non-cash items, such as depreciation or pensions liabilities. In general, these adjustments do not affect the net fiscal balance or current budget balance, as they are added to both revenue and expenditure. In 2015-16, accounting adjustments added £4.3 billion to the estimate of Scottish public sector revenue and £3.9 billion to the estimate of Scottish public sector spending. Comparable accounting adjustments are also contained in the estimates of UK public sector spending and revenue. For more information on accounting adjustments and where they appear in the revenue tables, see Table A.10.

Q: Is spending that does not occur in Scotland included in the estimates of Scottish public spending?

A: GERS aims to capture all spending that benefits the residents of Scotland. This means it assigns Scotland a share of some expenditure which takes place outside Scotland. It also means that it does not assign to Scotland expenditure which occurs in Scotland but benefits non-Scottish residents.

For example, expenditure on embassies occurs outside Scotland, but provides benefits to Scottish residents and companies, such as Scottish tourists requiring consular services. As such, Scotland is allocated a population share of this expenditure in GERS. Likewise, spending on museums in Scotland benefits visitors from the rest of the UK, so not all of this spending is assigned to Scotland in GERS.

Q: Why does GERS refer to public sector revenues rather than taxes?

A: Public sector revenue covers all income received by the public sector. Although this is mostly taxes, there are some forms of revenue which are not taxes. These include income made by public corporations, such as Scottish Water, or dividend income from companies in which the government holds shares. This year’s edition of GERS provides a breakdown of revenue into tax and non-tax categories.