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Summary: Public Sector Finances User Engagement Workshop, June 2012 This product is designated as National Statistics

Released: 20 July 2012 Download PDF

Abstract

The Public Sector Finances (PSF) Statistical Bulletin is a monthly National Statistics publication that has been produced jointly by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and HM Treasury since 1998. On 22 February 2012, ONS and the Treasury held a user engagement workshop on Public Sector Finance statistics. The workshop was open to the general public and all users of public sector finances were encouraged to attend. This note provides summary information on the presentations made at the workshop and the discussions held.

Introduction

The Office for National Statistics and HM Treasury (HMT) held a joint workshop on Public Sector Finance (PSF) statistics on 22 February 2012. The workshop was held in central London at HM Treasury, and the objectives of the workshop were:

  • to improve how ONS and HMT present Public Sector Finance statistics,

  • to provide a chance for users to talk to ONS/HM Treasury about their needs,

  • to present ONS/ HMT proposals for improvement and to get user feedback on these.

The workshop was attended by over 30 participants from government departments, private institutions and European institutions.

The workshop was promoted in the public sector finances statistical bulletins published on 24 January 2012 and 21 February 2012, as well as via email invites to known users of public sector finances data.

Overview of workshop presentations

The workshop started with a presentation by ONS on the history of Public Sector Finance (PSF) statistics. ONS and HM Treasury have jointly published PSF statistics since 1998 following the implementation of the 1995 European System of Accounts and the adoption of National Accounts concepts as the basis of the fiscal measures used by government. The statistics are published each month in the PSF statistical bulletin, which is available on both the ONS and the HM Treasury website.

The second presentation from HM Treasury defined the fiscal measures used in the monthly PSF bulletin and described how these measures link to the fiscal policy framework. In particular, the presentation focussed on the current fiscal framework, which was introduced in 2010 and saw the creation of the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). 

The speaker then looked at the impact of the financial sector interventions on the PSF measures and the derivation in 2008 and 2009 of new measures that excluded the temporary effects of financial interventions. It was explained that the measures excluding the temporary effects of financial interventions are the measures used in fiscal policy but that the PSF statistical bulletin publishes measures both including and excluding the temporary effects of financial interventions. The bulletin also provides reconciliation tables to show the relationship between the parallel measures.

In the third presentation, ONS introduced the debt and deficit measures published by ONS for the purposes of comparing the UK public finances with those of other countries. The internationally comparable debt and deficit measures were contrasted with the measures published in the PSF statistical bulletin, and used in UK fiscal policy, and the conceptual differences explained.

HM Treasury then gave a presentation on data evolution and trends in public sector finances data. This looked at how the quality of the outturn data evolves over the course of the financial year. Some underlying trends, and seasonal patterns, in net borrowing, income, expenditure and net investment were highlighted. The speaker then looked at two upcoming events that were going to have significant one-off impacts on the debt and deficit figures; changes to the Housing Revenue Account and the transfer to government of assets and liabilities of the Royal Mail Pension Plan.

In addition to the ONS and HMT presentations, there were presentations from three users of the PSF bulletin on their experiences of using the PSF statistics. The presenters were from the Office for Budget Responsibility, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Scottish Government.

Copies of the presentation slides can be found in the data section of this publication. (1.48 Mb Pdf)

Overview of user consultation

The workshop concluded with a session aimed at consulting users on their requirements around public sector finance statistics. A new format for the PSF statistical bulletin was presented to provoke discussion about possible changes to the bulletin. Following this, users were divided into groups to discuss their preferences for improving the layout and content of the bulletin, and their priorities for future developments in public sector finances.

The workshop participants identified a few main areas for improvement:

  • the interpretation of the statistics,

  • the accessibility of the data,

  • the comparability of the data.

Inevitably, there was no consensus from the participants on every point, as different users had different requirements from the data and bulletin. However, there was wide agreement on some points. These included that;

  • the information on 'special factors' (that is, real world events and methodological changes which impact on the latest estimates) was valued by users and should be made more prominent in the bulletin,

  • information on the comparability of the data with OBR forecasts and data from other countries, particularly European Member States, would be helpful,

  • the detailed data published in the bulletin, and in the supplementary data spreadsheet, were very valuable and further breakdowns of the fiscal aggregates, such as for debt and tax receipts, would be useful,

  • the timeliness and detail of the bulletin was appreciated.

Conclusion

Feedback forms from the participants found that all respondents found the event useful and interesting. The presentations on the history and concepts behind the public sector finances were well received and respondents valued the opportunity to hear from other users and provide feedback on the PSF bulletin.

The user discussions at the workshop have added to ONS and HM Treasury understanding of the needs of customers of public sector finance statistics. The feedback on the PSF bulletin was particularly useful, and many of the user suggestions made at that workshop have been incorporated within the new design PSF bulletin, published for the first time on 20 July 2012.

Some suggestions for other related events were: a presentation on cyclical adjustment of public finance data, a briefing for analysts’ from HM Treasury/OBR after each monthly publication, a separate workshop for data providers rather than users, and a similar user engagement event on Whole Government Accounts.

ONS and HM Treasury are grateful to all who participated in the workshop, and would like to express their thanks. The workshop was one way to engage with users and identify improvements to statistical products. Your comments would be appreciated on other ways in which user engagement and involvement in public sector finance statistics could be strengthened, and/or on how Public Sector Finance statistic publications could be improved.  If you have recommendations for improvements please email them to psa@ons.gsi.gov.uk.

Background notes

  1. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/code-of-practice/index.html or from the Media Relations Office email: media.relations@ons.gsi.gov.uk

    These National Statistics are produced to high professional standards and released according to the arrangements approved by the UK Statistics Authority.

Workshop agenda in full

The agenda for the afternoon was as follows:

  1. Opening remarks

  2. An introduction to the different UK fiscal measures including:

  • a history of the UK public sector finance statistical measures,

  • current UK fiscal measures and impact of financial interventions on measures of public sector finances,

  • comparative statistics: international and national,

  • interpretation of the monthly public sector finances data,

  • examples of the use of public sector finances data,

  • Office for Budget Responsibility,

  • Institute for Fiscal Studies,

  • Scottish Government,

  • consultation on user requirements.

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