Scottish Government - total underspend: FOI release

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

Information requested

You asked for the total underspend of all available monies that the Scottish government has had since 2007 on a financial year by year figure and as a percentage of available monies for each year as well.


Under the current devolution settlement, the Scottish Parliament is not allowed to overspend its budget.

The Scottish Parliament budgets are prepared in accordance with International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and form the basis on which the Consolidated Accounts are prepared and audited. Separately, the Scottish Government is required to live within HM Treasury budgetary controls.

The information on the outturn against the budget approved by the Scottish Parliament is available online in the annual published Scottish Government Consolidated Accounts. Please see the three links below for accounts up to 2015-16, from 2015-16 to 2017-18 and for 2018-19.

The annual accounts of other bodies funded directly from the budget authorised by the Scottish Parliament are similarly available online on their respective websites. A summary of the financial outturn for all of these bodies can found on the Scottish Government website ( in the form of a Final Outturn Report for 2018-19 (link below). A Final Outturn Report for 2017-18 is also available on the Scottish Government website should you wish to view it.

The majority of underspend reported in the 2019-20 accounts relates to non-cash items such as actuarial assessments and fair value adjustments to student loans that cannot be spent on goods and services. These are accounting adjustments, which cannot be used to fund public services and represent no loss of spending power for the Scottish Government.

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work presents annual reports on outturn performance on a HM Treasury Budget basis – on which the Scottish Government is required to balance. Attempting to spend the exact amount contained within the budget carries a risk of breaching the budget cap set by HM Treasury.
The Scottish Government manages budgets across more than one year and carries forward some spending into the next year where needed, so any underspends do not reflect a missed opportunity to spend more on public services. Not a penny of the cash variance is handed back to the Treasury, instead it is carried forward through the Scotland Reserve.

I have included a table below showing cash underspends reported by the Cabinet Secretary since 2007 as requested. Operation of the Scotland Reserve, as per the Scotland Act 2016, began in 2017-18, allowing the Scottish Government to build up reserves which can be spent in future years. This means that the increase in underspends observed since 2017-18 do not represent lost opportunities to fund public services and all these amounts have been carried forward in full and spent in subsequent years.

Table 1 – Outturn Variances Reported Since 2007-08

  Total Cash Underspend
Year £ million Percentage
2018-19 (449) 1.4%
2017-18 (453) 1.4%
2016-17 (191) 0.6%
2015-16 (155) 0.5%
2014-15 (204) 0.7%
2013-14 (176) 0.6%
2012-13 (179) 0.6%
2011-12 (179) 0.6%
2010-11 (12) 0.0%
2009-10 (119) 0.4%
2008-09 (124) 0.5%
2007-08 (42) 0.2%

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Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road

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