This report is the twenty-eighth in the series of official published estimates of expenditure and revenue balances of the public sector in Scotland.
GERS is classified as National Statistics and produced in accordance with the principles of the Code of Practice for Statistics. More information about National Statistics, including the latest assessment report on GERS (number 274), is available on the UK Statistics Authority website.
The Scottish Government held a public consultation on a potential new publication on devolved public sector finances in Scotland from June to September 2018. A consultation response was published in November 2018, setting out the intention to produce a new statistical publication in this area. Work on this publication has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Scottish Government will provide a further update once a publication date is confirmed.
Feedback from users of the publication is welcome. A correspondence address is available in the back leaf of the publication. Comments can be emailed to:
Coronavirus and the Public Sector Finances
The COVID-19 pandemic, which spread across the world in 2020, has had profound impacts on public health, the economy, and the public finances. The UK and Scotland introduced strict public health measures at the end of March 2020, as well as announcing a range of support packages for households and businesses. These public health measures and support packages persisted in various forms across the entirety of 2020-21.
COVID-19 has seen an unprecedented increase in public sector borrowing, reflecting both lower tax revenue as economic activity fell and higher spending both on public health response and support packages. Public sector borrowing in the UK has reached the highest level since the Second World War.
The challenges caused by the pandemic have also led to changes to the way the devolved administrations were funded in 2020-21. Further information has been set out in Scottish Government budget documents:
The ONS has published an article setting out some of the challenges with measuring the Public Sector Finances at this time, available at:
Some of the response to the pandemic for Scotland, such as additional funding for the NHS, is delivered by the Scottish Government, and is reflected in the increased Scottish Government spending in Table 3.8. Other elements, such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which allows firms to place their staff on furlough with up to 80% of their wages paid by government, is Other UK Government Department spending. More detail on this reserved spending is set out in Box 3.1.
The approach to reporting and estimating the impact of COVID-19 on the GERS figures for Scotland will be reviewed for future publications.
Recent Statistical Decisions and Changes
A number of statistical changes have been made over the last year, many as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Since the start of the pandemic, a large number of schemes has been introduced by the UK Government, the Scottish Government and other devolved administrations, and the Bank of England to support the economy and individuals affected by the pandemic. While most of these interventions are reflected in public spending, some elements are not yet included. This includes the loan guarantee schemes issued by the UK Government. Further work is planned to incorporate these into the Public Sector Finances, and further detail is available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/governmentpublicsectorandtaxes/publicsectorfinance/articles/developmentofpublicsectorfinancestatistics/june2021
Train Operating Companies
In March 2020, Emergency Measures Arrangements were put in place with train operating companies across the UK, to allow them to continue operating during the coronavirus pandemic. These agreements resulted in the companies receiving increased financial support from the government, with the government taking on the majority of revenue risk associated with lower passenger numbers. They also involved government setting restrictions on the ability of train operating companies to change the size of their workforce. As a result of these changes, the ONS classified all UK train operating companies, including ScotRail and the Caledonian Sleeper, into the public sector on 31 July 2020, where they are considered to be public corporations. Further detail is available at:
Although this change will not be implemented within the public sector finances until September 2021, the additional funding provided to the train operating companies is captured in transport spending in GERS.
As set out in the previous edition of GERS, following the move to the European System of Accounts 2010, the reporting of public sector pensions has changed from a net to a gross basis. This change is primarily presentational, and results in an increase in public sector interest expenditure. To improve the presentation of the impact, this spending is now shown separately in a number of the tables in Chapter 3. Spending by Local Government pension funds is included in Local Government spending in Table 3.8.
High Speed 2
In previous editions of the Country and Regional Analysis publication, Scotland has been allocated a share of High Speed 2 capital spending based on the location of capital spend, and a share of current spending based on the expected regional benefits of the project. This is consistent with the treatment of capital spending more generally, and as such these numbers have been used in GERS. As the complexity of the High Speed 2 has increased, the Department for Transport is no longer able to provide the location of capital spending associated with the project. As capital spend accounts for the majority of High Speed 2 expenditure, and as this expenditure is assumed not to be occurring in Scotland, in this edition of GERS none of the expenditure associated with High Speed 2 is allocated to Scotland.
Public sector interest expenditure
In previous editions of GERS, Scotland has been allocated a population share of all UK public sector interest expenditure. In this year’s publication, this has been changed to separate out interest expenditure which is associated with public sector pension funds. These are local government funds which generate both interest revenue and expenditure, and where data are available for Scotland. This change brings the treatment of expenditure associated with these funds into line with the treatment of their revenue, which was already allocated to Scotland using Scottish data.
What Questions Does GERS Address?
GERS addresses three questions about Scotland’s public sector accounts for a given year:
1. What revenues were raised in Scotland?
2. How much did the country pay for the public services that were consumed?
3. To what extent did the revenues raised cover the costs of these public services?
Public sector revenue is estimated where a financial burden is imposed on residents and enterprises in Scotland.
In general, the way in which revenue is collected means that separate figures for each country and region of the UK are not available for most revenues, although following increased devolution in recent years, more Scottish data have become available. As a result, Scottish public sector revenue is estimated by considering each revenue stream separately. Where Scottish data are unavailable, GERS estimates revenue using a set of apportionment methodologies, refined over a number of years following consultation with and feedback from users. The methodology note on the GERS website provides a detailed discussion of the methodologies and datasets used.
Public sector expenditure is estimated on the basis of spending incurred for the benefit of residents of Scotland. That is, a particular public sector expenditure is apportioned to a region if the benefit of the expenditure is thought to accrue to residents of that region.
This is a different measure from total public expenditure in Scotland. For most expenditure, spending for or in Scotland will be similar. For example, the vast majority of health expenditure by NHS Scotland occurs in Scotland and is for patients resident in Scotland. Therefore, the in and for approaches should yield virtually identical assessments of expenditure. However, for expenditure where the final impact is more widespread, such as defence, an assessment of ‘who benefits’ depends upon the nature of the benefit being assessed. Where there are differences between the for and in approaches, GERS estimates Scottish expenditure using a set of apportionment methodologies, refined over a number of years following consultation with and feedback from users.
The for approach considers the location of the recipients of services or transfers that public sector expenditure finances, irrespective of where the expenditure takes place. For example, with respect to defence expenditure, as the service provided is a national ‘public good’, the for methodology operates on the premise that the entire UK population benefits from the provision of a national defence service. Accordingly, under the for methodology, national defence expenditure is apportioned across the UK on a population basis.
Estimates of spending in Scotland are used in some Scottish Government publications, such as the Quarterly National Accounts. However, these do not provide a complete measure of spending, as some types of spending, such as welfare spending, are not reported. The Scottish Government is currently reviewing the potential to provide users with estimates of spending in Scotland, and information on how this would differ from spending for Scotland.
The Data Sources
The source of the revenue data in GERS is ONS’s Public Sector Finances, which provides disaggregated figures relating to UK public sector revenue.
The primary data sources used to estimate Scottish public sector expenditure in GERS are Scottish Government accounting data, and HM Treasury’s Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses and the supporting Country and Regional Analysis (CRA).
GERS also makes use of the estimates of Scottish Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in current market prices published in the Quarterly National Accounts Scotland (QNAS).
Additional Information on the GERS Website
The GERS website contains a number of additional analyses of Scotland’s public sector finances. In addition to containing copies of the GERS report from 1990-91 onwards, the website also contains the tables underpinning this edition of GERS in Excel format and statistics providing a consistent time series of Scotland’s public sector finances from 1998-99 to 2020-21.
The GERS website can be accessed via:
Comparisons to other countries and regions of the UK
GERS does not provide comparisons of Scottish revenue and expenditure with other parts of the UK, as data are not available for 2020-21 for each country and region of the UK. Users who are interested in these comparisons are advised to use the Country and Regional Public Sector Finances publication published by the ONS, available at the link below. A comparison between the ONS and GERS figures for Scotland is provided in Box 1.1.
The Scotland figures in the main tables in GERS are produced to be comparable to the UK figures presented in the ONS Public Sector Finances and the OBR Economic and Fiscal Outlook. These report for the public sector as a whole on a financial year basis. In contrast, organizations such as the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund report countries’ finances on a calendar year basis and for the government sector only. Figures for Scotland on this basis are available in Table A.4.
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