The Public Value of Devolved Public Finance Statistics


For those interested in holding the public sector to account for the distribution of public spending around the countries and regions and for the funds needed to sustain that spending, getting accurate perceptions of what the public sector is up to and how much it affects us is challenging. They face what is sometimes referred to as the fiscal illusion. Fiscal illusion suggests that when government revenues are not completely transparent or are not fully perceived by taxpayers, then the cost of government is seen to be less expensive than it is.

From our monitoring of devolved public finance statistics and other fiscal data about devolved public finances we noticed scepticism about the degree to which the statistics about public finances (devolved or for the UK) portray an accurate picture. Given the apprehension about the trustworthiness of public finance statistics it’s difficult to appreciate that the UK and the devolved countries are among the world’s most transparent when it comes to publishing finance data. The Whole of Government Accounts (WGA) for the UK, is widely regarded as a world-leading development in public sector financial reporting. WGA has provided a step change in the ability of the government to understand and manage its financial position. The improved transparency provided by the WGA has helped the UK Parliament to scrutinise the effects of government policy better, aiding the work of the Public Accounts Committee and other parliamentary committees in holding the UK government to account. For devolved countries users do not have access to similar insights into the public finances that the WGA provides for the UK.

The financial environment for devolved countries is changing with new tax and borrowing powers in some countries bringing about increasing autonomy with a commensurate need to strengthen accountability.  There are multiple sources of data about the taxes raised and public spending in the UK’s countries and regions which may be confusing to some users. There is a clear need for consistency between different sources of these statistics (what we refer to as coherence) alongside the new statistics which will be introduced.

We have been thinking about public value of devolved public finance statistics with a focus focusing on the clarity of the insights and messages from the statistics (transparency) and how consistent the statistics are between the different sources (coherence).  The statistics play a central role of these statistics in public debate and we wanted to be assured that the obvious value in this data is being fully exploited. Devolved governments face multiple demands for new data and we wished to explore whether data needs around the public assets and liabilities and the changes made due to investment have been considered and whether these data are likely to be published in the medium term

What we did and why?

Our thinking was informed by conducting extensive desk research looking at:

  • The existing published devolved public finance statistics
  • Existing data on the results of the Block Grant Adjustments to the Barnett formula and the consequences on devolved funding
  • Comment in the public domain about the strengths and limitations of current statistics and data on devolved government funding
  • Modern investment statements from advanced small countries such as New Zealand providing commentary accessible to the citizen in the street

We engaged with statisticians with the statisticians that produce devolved public finance statistics and data and with the users of such statistics including:

  • Official independent forecasters
  • policy-makers in devolved and Central Government departments
  • Economic consultants, researchers and academics
  • Audit bodies both nationally and in devolved countries
  • Regional and devolved country-based think tanks
  • Media
  • Business Bodies
  • Parliamentarians and their research and library bodies
  • Citizens with an interest in inter-generational equity and fiscal responsibility

What we want to happen as a result

We have been encouraging statistical producers to engage with users and potential users of these statistics to address their priorities with respect to their perceptions of the trustworthiness of the data, the insights derived from the data and the consistency between data coming from different sources. Further, we will seek to be assured that data needs in respect to devolved countries’ assets and liabilities have been considered and assigned a priority appropriate to identified users’ needs for such data.


  • Phase 1: Before the end of 2018 we had considered whether there was scope to enhance the transparency and coherence of the existing devolved public finance statistics.
  • Phase 2: Between the start of 2019 and April 2019 we gathered further information on the extent to which users have articulated needs for data on devolved countries assets, liabilities and their net position.

Sharing our findings

As this work is planned in two phases, we are sharing our findings and recommendations based on the two phases outlined above. As our work focuses on public value, of which transparency is a key aspect, we are presenting the findings using a multi-media approach including:

In addition we are publishing today our regulatory report of the findings from our assessment of some of the main source statistics on spending – HM Treasury’s Public Expenditure Spending Analysis: Country and Regional Analysis


Related Links:

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest” – Steps towards transparent fiscal statistics (May 2019)

Statistics on Government Spending: Country and Regional Analysis (May 2019)

Systemic Review Outline: Public value of statistics on public finances in a devolved UK, July 2018


NHS Performance Measures

Over the last two years the Office of Statistics Regulation has investigated different concerns over accident and emergency (A&E) statistics in England, Scotland and Wales.

We have worked closely with statisticians producing these statistics on A&E attendance and waiting times to make timely and informed interventions.

This report summarises our interventions and serves as a vehicle to develop and innovate the presentation of performance measures more widely.

Related links:

Ed Humpherson to Mark Svenson

Ed Humpherson to Glyn Jones

Ed Humpherson to Roger Halliday


Scottish Crime and Justice Survey

Statistics from SCJS are essential in providing a current view of the experience of victims of crime and confidence in the criminal justice system in Scotland. They estimate the trends in the main crime types, as well as providing important insight into the experience of highly sensitive crimes such as partner abuse and sexual offences.

This report concludes that the existing National Statistics status of the SCJS statistics may continue subject to Scottish Government demonstrating to us that it has enhanced the value, quality and trustworthiness of these statistics in the ways described in chapters one to three of this report.

We have asked Scottish Government to report on its actions by the end of October 2017.

Related links:

Confirmation as National Statistics: March 2018

Letter from Ed Humpherson to Roger Halliday

Special Assessment of the 2011 Censuses in the UK: Phase 3 (Office for National Statistics, National Records of Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency)

The population census is one of the most important sources of official statistics, informing decisions about almost every aspect of life within the UK and its communities. These include: policy decisions informed for example by understanding the pressures on transport networks and housing stock; guiding support to particular communities by evaluating the extent and nature of disadvantage in the UK, and investment decisions, such as where to place new schools or supermarkets. It is of fundamental importance in allocating billions of pounds to local areas by the UK government and devolved administrations, as well as grants to voluntary sector organisations. And the census helps every person in the UK get a better understanding of the places in which they live and work. This report brings to a close the Assessment of the official statistics from the three censuses conducted in 2011 in England and Wales, in Scotland, and in Northern Ireland.

House Price Index Phase 1 (Office for National Statistics and partners)

This is one of a series of reports prepared under the provisions of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 . The Act allows an appropriate authority to request an assessment of official statistics against the Code of Practice for Official Statistics in order for them to gain National Statistics status. This report is in response to such a request. The report covers a new UK House Price Index (UK HPI) being developed by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in partnership with Land Registry, Registers of Scotland and Land & Property Services Northern Ireland (LPSNI), hereafter referred to as ONS and partners.

In July 2013 ONS announced that the four producers of official house price statistics (ONS and partners) were investigating options for the production of a new single UK HPI. This work was triggered in response to a recommendation from the 2010 National Statistician’s Review of House Price Indices . In February 2014 , the Statistics Authority announced that, in light of this proposed development, the Authority did not aim to offer a formal designation of the current ONS House Price Index but would instead assess the potential new UK HPI and leave open the option to assess any associated official statistics developed consistent with this Index, should the producer bodies request this. The Authority expects that any such requests will be submitted shortly after the publication of this report.

The Statistics Authority is conducting this assessment in two phases: • The first phase – which this report covers – assesses compliance with the Code of Practice in respect of those aspects essential to the planning and development of methods for the new index, including user engagement (listed at Annex 1) • The second phase will be carried out after the new index is published and will involve an assessment of the statistics in light of users’ views. Phase 2 will consider how ONS and partners have responded to the findings from this report and will cover compliance with the remaining practices of the Code. The provisional timetable for Phase 2 is set out in Annex 1

On 14 July 2015, ONS announced that Land Registry will ultimately be responsible for publishing the new UK HPI in order to allow for a more coherent presentation of house price statistics via GOV.UK. As ONS will continue to lead on the development of the new indices, in partnership with Land Registry, Registers of Scotland and LPSNI this Phase 1 report will continue to refer to ‘ONS and partners’. However, while we expect that the four producer bodies will continue to work closely together to produce and publish the statistics (see Section 2 for more details), any Requirements included in the Phase 2 report of this assessment will be addressed directly to Land Registry.

This report was prepared by the Authority’s Assessment team, and approved by the Regulation Committee on behalf of the Board of the Statistics Authority, based on the advice of the Director General for Regulation.

Related Links

UK and Northern Ireland House Price Indices Phase 2


Statistics on Recorded Crime in Scotland (Scottish Government)

This is one of a series of reports prepared under the provisions of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 . The Act gives the Statistics Authority power to re-assess whether the Code of Practice for Official Statistics continues to be complied with in relation to official statistics already designated as National Statistics. The report covers the set of statistics reported in Recorded Crime in Scotland, produced by the Scottish Government.

The previous assessment of this set of statistics was reported in Assessment report 2 . The Authority has chosen to reassess these statistics partly due to the nature of concerns raised in our recent Assessment report 268 Statistics on Crime in England and Wales. As our assessment progressed, it became increasingly apparent that the creation of a single police force (the Police Service of Scotland (Police Scotland)) represented a significant change in the crime recording landscape and provided a further rationale for a reassessment.

This report was prepared by the Authority’s Assessment team, and approved by the Assessment Committee on behalf of the Board of the Statistics Authority, based on the advice of the Head of Assessment.

Decision concerning designation as National Statistics

The Statistics Authority notes that the Scottish Government is responsible for the validation of police recorded crime data and the production and publication of police recorded crime statistics. Police Scotland is responsible for providing annual police recorded crime data to the Scottish Government and carries out internal audits of these data, which are reported internally and to the Scottish Police Authority (SPA). In addition, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland’s (HMICS) independent reviews of Police Scotland can include inspections of police recorded crime data and the practices of recording them.

The Authority expects any producer of statistics to consider the limitations and risks of the underlying data, and to seek appropriate assurance that the data are of sufficient quality such that the statistics meet users’ needs. In the context of high profile statistics such as police recorded crime, the Authority has been clear that systematic published audit of the underlying data is essential to increase both the quality of, and public confidence in, these statistics. In line with this position, the Authority considers that police recorded crime data in Scotland are of high public interest, that these data should be the subject of independent scrutiny and that the Scottish Government should obtain and provide strong levels of assurance about their quality.

However, this report concludes that the Scottish Government lacks sufficient evidence to be able to provide such appropriate reassurance. The Authority considers that the Scottish Government has not created, and put into practice, a coherent framework for considering the quality of the underlying data, and does not have sufficient information about the quality of the police recorded crime data. It is therefore unable to make users fully aware of any potential limitations of the recorded crime statistics.

The Authority typically allows a three month period for producers to meet Requirements in Assessment reports. On that basis, and given the available evidence, the Authority considers that the Scottish Government will not be able to gather the information it needs to inform these considerations in that time.

These statistics were confirmed as National Statistics in a letter to the Scottish Government in March 2010 . It is a statutory requirement on the producer body to continue to ensure that it produces the set of statistics designated as National Statistics in compliance with the Code of Practice. The Authority considers that the Scottish Government has not provided sufficient evidence of ongoing compliance with the majority of the Principles of the Code of Practice for these National Statistics since the last Assessment. The Requirements for the Scottish Government contained in this report reflect the extent of noncompliance across the breadth of the Principles and Protocols in the Code of Practice.

The Requirements in this report (listed in section 1.5) cover a wide range of Principles and Practices of the Code of Practice. In many cases, these Requirements relate to elements of the Code that we find that most statistical producers comply with as a matter of course, such as publishing minutes of key meetings. The Requirements cover four main themes (some Requirements are applicable to more than one theme): • Failure to meet the required standards for user engagement and documenting the uses of the statistics (Requirements 1, 2, 3, 4 and 18) • Failure to meet the required standards for publishing sufficient information about the methods used to compile the statistics and about the quality of the statistics, and for keeping users informed about material changes, or other related work, that could impact on the statistics (Requirements 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12, 13 and 21) • Failure to meet the required standards for the presentation and publication of the statistics (Requirements 11, 14, 15, 17, 19 and 20) • Failure to meet the required standard for the planning and resourcing of statistical work and promoting transparency in this work (Requirements 3, 7, 8 and 16)

Without new evidence of a systematic independent published audit of the integrity of police recorded crime data, and the results of that audit suggesting that the data are produced in ways that are reliable and comparable, the Authority cannot, at present, confer the designation of Recorded Crime in Scotland as National Statistics.

The Scottish Government should: • working with HMICS or other appropriate bodies, combine existing and new work into a coherent framework of assurance. Most of this material exists, or will be available once HMICS publish their next report examining the integrity of crime recording in Scotland; but it has not been incorporated into a coherent framework • publish demonstrable evidence that the outputs from the forthcoming independent HMICS audit have been integrated into the processes and practices for the compilation, analysis and publication of these statistics and of the supporting documentation • implement all the Requirements covering the wide range of Principles of the Code of Practice listed in section 1.5

The Scottish Government informed the Authority on 15 July 2014 that it is investigating whether the HMICS audit can be conducted and published before October 2014. The Authority welcomes efforts by the Scottish Government to improve the trustworthiness and value of these statistics in the public interest. The Authority further anticipates that the Scottish Government will address the Requirements in this report swiftly and that the results of the forthcoming HMICS audit will be appropriately reflected in the Scottish Government’s consideration of the reliability of the police recorded crime data. The Authority will welcome the further submission of fuller evidence from the Scottish Government which demonstrates that it has addressed all the Requirements set out in this Assessment report, and remains receptive to consider this matter again with the Scottish Government when such evidence is presented.

Letter of Confirmation as National Statistics

Letter from Ed Humpherson to Leslie Evans regarding the assessment of statistics on Recorded Crime in Scotland