1.1 The Office for National Statistics (ONS) publishes Country and Regional Public Sector Finance (CRPSF) annually. CRPSF statistics provide users with information on what public sector expenditure has occurred in each of the UK’s nations and English regions and what public sector revenues have been raised in each nation or region, as well as the balance between them. The statistical concepts used in CRPSF statistics are consistent with those used in UK Public Sector Finance statistics.
1.2 CRPSF statistics are used widely by policymakers and by analysts in each of the UK’s nations’ respective treasury departments. As part of government spending reviews, policymakers in central government use CRPSF statistics, along with the Barnett formula and Block Grant Transparency statistics to help determine the level of public spending in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In turn the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments use CRPSF statistics to monitor the spending of these funds and to construct budgets that set out their plans for spending on public services.
1.3 CRPSF statistics are used by the Office for Budget Responsibility in the preparation of fiscal sustainability reports and UK fiscal forecasts and are expected to be used in similar assessments planned by the Scottish Parliament. The statistics are used, for example, in public discourse with interested users and the media paying particular attention to comparisons of spending per head and fiscal balance statistics across the English regions and each of the UK’s nations. The statistics are used to make the case for further devolution of tax-raising powers and to assess the effectiveness of public spending across the UK.
1.4 The statistics also offer opportunities to researchers and academics to examine the performance of public services across the UK nations. The statistics are used alongside other sources of public finance statistics, such as HMT’s Country and Regional Analysis (CRA) and Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) by government analysts to brief ministers and officials, and to respond to queries on issues of devolved public finance. The potential of CRPSF statistics is set to increase as ONS develops further disaggregated measures of public finances, allowing, for instance, research on the fiscal position of UK cities and local authority (LA) areas, enabling the further development of evidence-based local social and economic policies.
1.5 As the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments’ tax-raising powers have changed, so has the policy environment for CRPSF statistics. In early February 2022, the UK Government published its strategy for Levelling Up the United Kingdom. This UK Government initiative sets out ambitions to resolve social and economic inequalities across the UK. Funding for this initiative is being made to the English regions and the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments via the Shared Prosperity Fund. This fund has been put in place by the UK Government to replace funding previously received from the EU Structural Funds. It is important to note that not all the funding received by UK individuals and businesses under the EU structural funds were recorded in CRPSF statistics as payments from the EU were often made directly to individuals and businesses and not administered centrally. In contrast, however, the Shared Prosperity Fund will be managed centrally and as such all the funds made available to the UK’s regions and Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments will be recorded in CRPSF statistics.
1.6 With evidence set at the heart of the UK Government’s levelling up strategy, it is important that policymakers and the public can scrutinise the data and statistics underpinning the UK Government’s plans to resolve its social and economic inequalities. CRPSF statistics form an important part of the evidence base that will be used to further develop local policies to address these inequalities.
1.7 ONS has worked hard with its government partners and through the media to build the profile and accessibility of CRPSF statistics. It is expected that the UK Government’s levelling up strategy, however, could increase the demands on the use of CRPSF statistics. It is crucial therefore that ONS reflects on these changes and ensures that CRPSF statistics are promoted and developed to meet users’ changing needs.
1.8 There are several opportunities to improve the profile and accessibility of CRPSF statistics. ONS should consider working with the Government Statistical Service and the Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence on promotional activities of the Sub-national data strategy, and work focussed on meeting the demands for more regional data respectively. ONS should also use intelligence about how users access CRPSF statistics, and what use they make of them, to help promote the statistics.
Requirement 1. ONS must plan to ensure that the profile and accessibility of CRPSF statistics reflects any increased demand for them.