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.
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: How has the coronavirus pandemic affected the GERS figures?
A: The GERS publication covers the period up to the end of March 2020 and some initial impacts can already be seen. In particular, revenue from corporation tax and VAT have fallen, whilst public spending, particularly on health, has increased. The impact of coronavirus will be greater in 2020-21.
Q: Why have the GERS numbers changed from last year?
A: The estimates in GERS are updated every year to reflect the latest data and methodologies. Often, the changes reflect updates to UK figures in the UK Public Sector Finances. This year there have been changes relating to student loans, pensions, and capital consumption, as well as regular data updates.
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 refer to other economic statistics products, such as the quarterly Gross Domestic product figures or Quarterly National Accounts Scotland (QNAS) (www.gov.scot/gdp), These publications provide estimates of real terms growth in the economy, and GDP in cash or nominal terms and its components.
Q: What is the public sector?
A: The public sector contains all government bodies, and all bodies which are controlled by government. This includes publicly controlled businesses, such as Scottish Water and the Bank of England. In GERS, the Scottish Government, Scottish Local Authorities, and the public corporations they control such as Scottish Water, are referred to as Scottish public sector 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 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 Statistics, changes are made to GERS after consultation and discussion with users. This includes discussion at the annual Scottish Economic Statistics Consultation Group,which brings together users of economic statistics from industry, academia and the wider public sector. Public consultation exercises, open to all, are also carried out to allow all users of GERS to comment on planned and suggested changes to GERS.
Q: What income tax figures are presented in GERS?
A: The headline income tax figures in GERS show estimates of all income tax raised in Scotland. This is slightly different from tax collected under the devolved Scottish Income Tax, which only relates to non-savings non-dividends income tax liabilities. The revenue from devolved income tax is presented in Chapter 4, and the headline estimates are consistent with these figures.
Q: Do you use company headquarters to assign corporation tax or taxes like VAT?
A: No. 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, an international reporting standard 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 2019-20, accounting adjustments added £6.5 billion to the estimate of Scottish public sector revenue and £6.9 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.9.
Q: Is spending that does not occur in Scotland included in the estimates of Scottish public spending?
A: Yes. 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.
The views of users are highly valued and the Scottish Government is always keen to hear from as many users as possible. If you have any queries or comments on GERS please address them to:Post: Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) Office of the Chief Economic Adviser Scottish Government St Andrew's House Regent Road Edinburgh EH1 3DG
Telephone: 0131 244 2825