Public sector finances, UK: December 2018

How the relationship between UK public sector monthly income and expenditure leads to changes in deficit and debt.

This is the latest release. View previous releases

This is an accredited national statistic.

Contact:
Email Fraser Munro

Release date:
22 January 2019

Next release:
21 February 2019

1. Main points

  • Borrowing (public sector net borrowing excluding public sector banks) in December 2018 was £3.0 billion, £0.3 billion more than in December 2017; with the exception of the £2.7 billion borrowed in December 2017, this was the lowest December borrowing for 18 years (since 2000).

  • Borrowing in the current financial year-to-date (YTD) was £35.9 billion, £13.1 billion less than in the same period in 2017; the lowest year-to-date for 16 years (since 2002).

  • Borrowing in the financial year ending (FYE) March 2018 was £41.9 billion, £3.0 billion less than in FYE March 2017; the lowest financial year for 11 years (since FYE 2007).

  • Debt (public sector net debt excluding public sector banks) at the end of December 2018 was £1,808.9 billion (or 84.0% of gross domestic product (GDP)); an increase of £48.6 billion (or a decrease of 0.5 percentage points of GDP) on December 2017.

  • Debt at the end of December 2018 excluding Bank of England (mainly quantitative easing) was £1,622.9 billion (or 75.4% of GDP); an increase of £30.8 billion (or a decrease of 1.1 percentage points of GDP) on December 2017.

  • Central government net cash requirement in the current financial YTD was £41.0 billion (£7.7 billion less than financial YTD 2017) or £42.3 billion excluding both UK Asset Resolution Ltd and Network Rail (£7.8 billion less than in financial YTD 2017).

Back to table of contents

2. Things you need to know about this release

In the UK, the public sector consists of five sub-sectors: central government, local government, public non-financial corporations, Bank of England and public financial corporations (or public sector banks).

Unless otherwise stated, the figures quoted in this bulletin exclude public sector banks (that is, currently only Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS)), as the reported position of debt (and to a lesser extent borrowing) would be distorted by the inclusion of RBS's balance sheet (and transactions). This is because government does not need to borrow to fund the debt of RBS, nor would surpluses achieved by RBS be passed on to government, other than through any dividends paid as a result of government equity holdings.

Public sector net borrowing excluding public sector banks (PSNB ex) measures the gap between revenue raised (current receipts) and total spending (current expenditure plus net investment (capital spending less capital receipts)). Public sector net borrowing is often referred to by commentators as “the deficit”.

The public sector net cash requirement (PSNCR) represents the cash needed to be raised from the financial markets over a period of time to finance the government’s activities. This can be close to the deficit for the same period but there are some transactions, for example, loans to the private sector, which need to be financed but do not contribute to the deficit. It is also close but not identical to the changes in the level of net debt between two points in time.

Public sector net debt excluding public sector banks (PSND ex) represents the amount of money the public sector owes to private sector organisations including overseas institutions, largely as a result of issuing gilts and Treasury Bills, less the amount of cash and other short-term assets it holds. Public sector net debt is often referred to by commentators as “national debt”.

While borrowing (or the deficit) represents the difference between total spending and receipts over a period of time, debt represents the total amount of money owed at a point in time.

The debt has been built up by successive government administrations over many years. When the government borrows (that is, runs a deficit), this normally adds to the debt total. So reducing the deficit is not the same as reducing the debt.

Accounting for student loans

On 17 December 2018, we announced our decision on how we will treat student tuition fee and maintenance loans in the government’s accounts. We have published a blog explaining our role and why we have taken these decisions. We aim to implement these changes in September 2019.

Back to table of contents

3. What’s changed in this release?

This section presents information on aspects of data or methodology that have been introduced or improved since the publication of the previous bulletin, along with supporting information users may find useful.

UK contributions to the European Union budget

In December 2018, the UK’s net contribution to the European Union (EU) was £1.5 billion higher than in December 2017.

December can see atypical payments between member states and the EU.

December 2017 saw a significant surplus returned to member states, with an overall credit to the UK of £1.2 billion following the adoption of an agreed reduction to the 2017 EU budget and adjustments to member states’ contributions to reflect updated economic forecasts.

In December 2018, there have been some amendments to member states’ contributions to 2018 EU budget, however the amount returned to the UK is much smaller than in December 2017.

These changes were anticipated by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) in their October 2018 forecast.

Fines and penalties

Having reviewed our recording of fines and penalties for the late payment of taxes to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), we identified additional fine and penalty revenue not previously recorded in our calculation of net borrowing. These payments have been introduced this month and recorded as fines under the “other receipts” category within the central government account from the financial year ending (FYE) March 2011 to date.

As a result of increasing central government receipts, we have reduced public sector net borrowing over this period, with borrowing in the FYE March 2017 and FYE March 2018 both reducing by £0.7 billion due to this revenue increase.

Student loan sales

On 4 December 2018, the government announced the sale of part of the older, pre-2012, English student loan book achieving a value of £1.9 billion.

While we have announced a change to our accounting for student loans (to be introduced in September 2019), this sale has been treated according to current procedures applied to previous asset sales; the public sector net cash requirement in December 2018 and public sector net debt at the end of December 2018 have both been reduced by the cash value received from the sale, while public sector net financial liabilities has increased by the difference between the nominal value of the loans sold and the sale price.

Under the current procedure, this sale transaction has no impact on public sector net borrowing.

Changes to the recording of the Term Funding Scheme

The Term Funding Scheme (TFS) was introduced in September 2016, as a quantitative easing measure under the Bank of England Asset Purchase Facility Fund (APF) umbrella, to enable financial institutions to cut the time in passing on interest rate reductions to consumers and businesses. From its launch, the TFS was indemnified as part of the APF.

On 21 June 2018, the government published a new Memorandum of Understanding between HM Treasury and the Bank of England (BoE), which set out the financial relationship between the two institutions.

This memorandum announced that during the current financial year (April 2018 to March 2019), the £127 billion liabilities of the Term Funding Scheme (PDF, 1.4MB) would be transferred from the APF to the BoE’s own balance sheet and that the HM Treasury indemnity for it would be removed.

Further to this announcement, we can confirm that the TFS was transferred out of the APF to the balance sheet of BoE on 19 January 2019.

An indemnity extension has now come into effect from this date until the point when BoE receives a capital injection of £1.2 billion from HM Treasury (estimated to be late March), after which BoE will bear any future risk from holding the TFS on its balance sheet.

This change will have no impact on public sector net debt (both including and excluding public sector banks).

Back to table of contents

4. How much is the public sector borrowing?

In December 2018, the public sector spent more money than it received in taxes and other income. This meant it had to borrow £3.0 billion; that is, £0.3 billion more than the same period in December 2017. With the exception of the £2.7 billion borrowed in December 2017, this was the lowest December borrowing for 18 years.

Of this £3.0 billion, £2.9 billion was borrowed by central government and £1.1 billion by local government, while the Bank of England recorded a surplus borrowing of £0.9 billion.

Central government receipts in December 2018 increased by 4.3% compared with December 2017, to £59.8 billion, while total central government expenditure increased by 5.3% to £61.2 billion.

Much of this annual growth in central government receipts in December 2018 came from Value Added Tax (VAT), Income Tax, Rail Franchise Premia and National Insurance contributions compared with December 2017.

Over the same period, there were notable increases in expenditure on goods and services, along with net social benefits.

The UK’s net contribution to the European Union (EU) was £1.5 billion higher than in December 2017. As explained in Section 3 of this bulletin, while December 2017 saw an overall credit to the UK of £1.2 billion, December 2018 saw a much smaller amount returned to the UK, hence an overall contribution to the EU of £0.3 billion.

Interest payments on the government’s outstanding debt have decreased, due largely to movements in the Retail Prices Index to which index-linked bonds are pegged.

Figure 1 summarises public sector borrowing by sub-sector in December 2018 and compares this with the equivalent measures in the same month a year earlier (December 2017). This presentation splits public sector net borrowing excluding public sector banks (PSNB ex) into each of its four sub-sectors: central government, local government, public corporations and Bank of England.

While local government data for December 2018 are based on budget forecasts for England, Wales and Scotland, public corporations data remain initial estimates, with most components calculated by Office for National Statistics (ONS) based on Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts. In both cases, additional administrative source data are used to estimate transfers to each of these sectors from central government.

Due to the volatility of the monthly data, the cumulative financial year-to-date borrowing figures often provide a better indication of the position of the public finances than the individual months.

In the financial year-to-date (YTD) (April to December 2018), public sector spending exceeded the money received in taxes and other income. This meant the public sector had to borrow £35.9 billion; that is, £13.1 billion less than the same period in 2017. Borrowing so far this financial year was the lowest for any April to December period for 16 years.

Of the £35.9 billion borrowed by the public sector in this period, £10.0 billion related to the cost of the “day-to-day” activities of the public sector (the current budget deficit), while £26.0 billion was capital spending (or net investment), such as on infrastructure.

Figure 2 presents both monthly and cumulative public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) in the current financial YTD (April to December 2018) and compares these with the previous financial year.

Figure 3 summarises the contributions of each sub-sector to public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) in the current financial YTD (April to December 2018) and compares these with the same period in the previous financial year.

The difference between central government's income and spending makes the largest contribution to the amount borrowed by the public sector. In the latest financial YTD (April to December 2018), of the £35.9 billion borrowed by the public sector, £36.2 billion was borrowed by central government and £0.3 billion by local government, while the borrowing of Bank of England was in surplus by £0.5 billion.

In the current financial YTD, central government received £531.3 billion in income, including £399.1 billion in taxes. This was around 5% more than in the same period in 2017.

Over the same period, central government spent £553.5 billion, around 3% more than in the same period in 2017. Of this amount, just below two-thirds was spent by central government departments (such as health, education and defence), around one-third on social benefits (such as pensions, unemployment payments, Child Benefit and Maternity Pay), with the remainder being spent on capital investment and interest on government’s outstanding debt.

Figure 4 illustrates that annual borrowing has been generally falling since the peak in the financial year ending (FYE) March 2010 (April 2009 to March 2010).

In the latest full financial year (April 2017 to March 2018), the £41.9 billion (or 2.0% of gross domestic product (GDP)) borrowed by the public sector was around one-quarter of the amount seen in the FYE March 2010, when borrowing was £153.1 billion (or 9.9% of GDP).

Back to table of contents

5. How much does the public sector owe?

Public sector net debt (PSND ex) represents the amount of money the public sector owes to private sector organisations (including overseas institutions), that has built up by successive government administrations over many years.

When the government borrows, this normally adds to the debt total, but it is important to remember that reducing the deficit is not the same as reducing the debt.

At the end of December 2018, the amount of money owed by the public sector to the private sector stood at around £1.8 trillion (Figure 5), which equates to 84.0% of the value of all the goods and services currently produced by the UK economy in a year (or gross domestic product (GDP)).

The introduction of the Term Funding Scheme (TFS) in September 2016 led to an increase in net debt, as the loans provided under the scheme are not liquid assets and therefore do not net off in public sector net debt (against the liabilities incurred in providing the loans).

Since December 2017, the net debt associated with the Bank of England (BoE) increased by £17.9 billion to £186.0 billion. Nearly all of this growth was due to the activities of the Asset Purchase Facility Fund, of which the TFS is a part.

The TFS closed for drawdowns of further loans on 28 February 2018 with a loan liability of £127.0 billion. The TFS loan liability at the end of December 2018 was £121.4 billion.

If we were to exclude the activities of the BoE in the calculation of public sector net debt (excluding public sector banks), it would reduce by £186.0 billion, from £1,808.9 billion to £1,622.9 billion, or from 84.0% of GDP to 75.4%.

Figure 6 breaks down outstanding public sector net debt at the end of December 2018 into the sub-sectors of the public sector. In addition to public sector net debt excluding public sector banks (PSND ex), this presentation includes the effect of public sector banks on debt.

Figure 7 incorporates the borrowing components detailed in Figure 2 to illustrate how the differences between income and spending (both current and capital) have led to the accumulation of debt in the current financial year-to-date (April to December 2018).

The reconciliation between public sector net borrowing and net cash requirement is presented in more detail in Table REC1 in the Public sector finances Tables 1 to 10: Appendix A dataset.

Back to table of contents

6. Revisions since previous release

Revisions can be the result of both updated data sources and methodology changes. This month, revisions to public sector net borrowing are as a result of updated data and an additional source of central government revenue previously omitted from our borrowing calculations.

Table 1 presents the revisions to the headline statistics presented in this bulletin compared with those presented in the previous publication (published on 21 December 2018).

Fines and penalties

This month we have introduced additional central government revenue that had previously not been recorded in our calculation of net borrowing. Fines and penalties for the late payment of taxes to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) are now recorded under the “other receipts” category within the central government account from the financial year ending (FYE) March 2011 to date. As a result, in each of these financial years, central government net borrowing has been reduced by between £0.3 billion in the FYE March 2011 and £0.7 billion in the FYE March 2018, with a £0.6 billion reduction to central net borrowing in the current financial year-to-date (YTD).

Revisions to public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) in October 2018

Last month we reported a £2.4 billion reduction to October 2018’s public sector net borrowing since the previous bulletin (published on 21 November 2018). This revision was largely a temporary effect of the alignment of our monthly public finances data and our quarterly government finance statistics (GFS) reported to the European Commission.

The September GFS submission requires the alignment of these two datasets for the period up to and including September 2018. As is usual, since the finalisation of our GFS dataset, we have received further, more up-to-date central government expenditure data from HM Treasury.

To reflect this expenditure in the latest month (then November) and to preserve most up-to-date current financial year-to-date (then April to November 2018) totals, we applied several profile adjustments to October’s expenditure data. As a result, a larger than normal portion of the financial year-to-date revision was applied to October, rather than across the whole April to October period.

This is a regular quarterly phenomenon and the temporary adjustments applied to October have now been removed, with October’s borrowing now being revised up by £1.2 billion, £1.2 billion lower that the initial October 2018 borrowing estimate.

Revisions to public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) in the current financial year-to-date (April to November 2018)

The data for the latest month of every release contain some forecast data. The initial outturn estimates for the early months of the financial year, particularly April, contain more forecast data than other months, as profiles of tax receipts, along with departmental and local government spending are still provisional. This means that the data for these months are typically more prone to revision than other months and can be subject to sizeable revisions in later months.

Public sector net borrowing excluding public sector banks (PSNB ex) in the period April to November 2018 has been revised up by £0.2 billion compared with figures presented in the previous bulletin (published on 21 December 2018).

The estimate of central government receipts for the period April to November 2018 has increased by £0.4 billion, with tax receipts and other receipts (largely additional fine revenue) increasing by £0.4 billion and £0.5 billion respectively. These increases were partially offset by decreases in National Insurance contributions and interest and dividends receipts of £0.3 billion and £0.2 billion respectively.

Over the same period, estimates for central government current expenditure increased by £0.3 billion; due largely to a £0.5 billion increase in the subsidies paid by central government.

Figure 8 breaks down this revision to PSNB ex by each of its four sub-sectors: central government, local government, non-financial public corporations and Bank of England (BoE).

Revisions to public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) in the financial year ending March 2018

Since the last publication (21 December 2018), estimates of public sector net borrowing for the financial year ending (FYE) March 2018 have increased by £0.4 billion, due to a decrease in the estimate of central government receipts.

Over the FYE March 2018, other receipts (additional fines revenue) increased by £0.7 billion, however this increase was offset by decreases in taxes and National Insurance contributions of £0.2 billion and £1.0 billion respectively.

Revisions to public sector net cash requirement (excluding public sector banks) in November 2018

Since the last publication (21 December 2018), our estimate of public sector net cash requirement for November 2018 has decreased by £1.6 billion. This is largely due to quality assurance of our central government cash data, identifying a shortfall in our recording cash receipts within the “other receipts” category in our November estimate.

Revisions to public sector net debt excluding public sector banks

While the estimate of public sector net debt excluding public sector banks (PSND ex) remained relatively unchanged at the end of November 2018 compared with figures presented in the previous bulletin (published on 21 December 2018), PSND ex expressed as a ratio of gross domestic product (GDP) has been revised for the period November 2016 to date, due to incorporation of the latest GDP estimates.

Back to table of contents

7. How do our figures compare with official forecasts?

The independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) is responsible for the production of official forecasts for government. These forecasts are usually produced twice a year, in spring and autumn.

The OBR forecasts used in this bulletin are based on those published in its Economic and Fiscal Outlook – October 2018.

Table 2 compares the current outturn estimates for each of our main public sector (excluding public sector banks) aggregates for the latest full financial year with corresponding OBR forecasts for the following financial year. Further, it compares the current financial year-to-date (April to December 2018) outturn estimates with those of the previous financial year.

Caution should be taken when comparing public sector finances data with OBR figures for the full financial year. Data are not finalised until some time after the financial year ends, with initial estimates made soon after the end of the financial year often subject to sizeable revisions in later months as forecasts are replaced with audited outturn data.

There may also be known methodological differences between OBR forecasts and outturn data.

Back to table of contents

8. International comparisons of borrowing and debt

The UK government debt and deficit statistical bulletin is published quarterly (in January, April, July and December each year), to coincide with when the UK and other EU member states are required to report on their deficit (or net borrowing) and debt to the European Commission.

On 17 January 2019, we published UK government debt and deficit: September 2018, consistent with Public sector finances, UK: November 2018 (published on 21 December 2018). In this publication we stated that:

  • general government gross debt was £1,763.8 billion at the end of March 2018, equivalent to 85.4% of gross domestic product (GDP); 25.4 percentage points above the Maastricht reference value of 60.0%

  • general government deficit (or net borrowing) was £42.9 billion in the financial year ending (FYE) March 2018, equivalent to 2.1% of GDP; 0.9 percentage point below the Maastricht reference value of 3.0%

This bulletin presents an upward revision to general government deficit in the FYE March 2018 of £0.4 billion, to £43.3 billion, compared with that published on 17 January 2019; while the estimate of general government gross debt remains unchanged at £1,763.8 billion.

The UK general government debt and deficit data we published on 19 October 2018 were published by Eurostat on 22 October 2018 (PDF, 548KB) in context with the other 27 EU member states.

It is important to note that the GDP measure, used as the denominator in the calculation of the debt ratios in the UK government debt and deficit statistical bulletin, differs from that used within the Public sector finances statistical bulletin.

Back to table of contents

9. Quality and methodology

The public sector finances Quality and Methodology Information (QMI) report contains important information on:

  • the strengths and limitations of the data and how it compares with related data

  • uses and users of the data

  • how the output was created

  • the quality of the output including the accuracy of the data

The public sector finances methodological guide provides comprehensive contextual and methodological information concerning the monthly Public sector finances statistical bulletin.

The guide sets out the conceptual and fiscal policy context for the bulletin, identifies the main fiscal measures and explains how these are derived and inter-related. Additionally, it details the data sources used to compile the monthly estimates of the fiscal position.

Local government forecasts

In recent years, planned expenditure initially reported in local authority budgets has systematically been higher than the final outturn expenditure reported in the audited accounts. We therefore include adjustments to reduce the amounts reported at the budget stage.

Our adjustments for the whole financial year ending (FYE) March 2019 are £1.5 billion for current expenditure on goods and services and £0.7 billion for capital expenditure. Further information on these and additional adjustments can be found in the public sector finances methodological guide.

Back to table of contents

10. Looking ahead

This section presents information on aspects of data or methodology that are planned but not yet included in the public sector finances.

Further, in our article Looking ahead: developments in public sector finance statistics, we provide users with early sight of those areas where the fiscal statistics may be significantly impacted upon by methodological or classification changes during the coming 24 months.

EU withdrawal agreement

Although the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) discusses the EU settlement in Annex B (PDF, 2.5MB) of their Economic and Fiscal Outlook – March 2018, the details in the report are still subject to negotiation and so there is insufficient certainty at this stage for us to complete a formal assessment of impact on the UK public sector finances.

Accounting for student loans: how we are improving the recording of student loans in government accounts

On 17 December 2018, we announced our decision on how we will treat student tuition fee and maintenance loans in the government’s accounts. We have published a blog explaining our role and why we have taken this decision.

In addition, we have published a technical note, giving further information about how we came to our decision.

It is anticipated that implementation of this decision into its headline statistics will take some time and that any change will be reflected in the public sector finances in September 2019.

Crossrail

On 10 December 2018, the government published an Update on the financial package for Crossrail. In this release, they announced a financial package of £1.4 billion, largely made up of a loan of £1.3 billion from the Department for Transport (DfT) to the Greater London Authority (GLA).

The government also announced that, as the final costs of the Crossrail project are yet to be confirmed, a contingency arrangement has also been agreed between Transport for London (TfL) and DfT. The DfT will loan TfL up to £750 million in the event that further finance is required for the project.

We will reflect the impact of these financial transactions in the public sector finances at the earliest opportunity after these transactions have taken place.

The sale of railway arches

On 11 September 2018, Network Rail announced they had agreed terms for the sale of its Commercial Estate business in England and Wales, the majority of the properties in which are railway arches. We are currently investigating the nature of the transaction to ensure that the impacts will be fully reflected in the public sector finances.

East Coast Mainline

On 16 May 2018, the government announced that from 24 June 2018, London North Eastern Railway (LNER) will take over the running of East Coast Mainline services. On 31 August 2018, we announced that LNER would be classified to the public non-financial corporations sub-sector, effective from 14 February 2018. We are currently investigating the implications of this decision and our conclusions will be announced in due course.

Carillion insolvency

Following Carillion Plc declaring insolvency on 15 January 2018, the UK government announced that it would provide the necessary funding required by the Official Receiver, to ensure continuity of public services through an orderly liquidation. The Official Receiver has been appointed by the court as liquidator, along with partners at PwC that have been appointed Special Managers. The defined benefit pension schemes of former Carillion employees are currently being assessed by the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) prior to any transition into the PPF scheme.

We are currently investigating the various impacts of the liquidation of Carillion on the public sector finances, including in relation to the public-private partnership projects in which Carillion was involved and the additional funding that the government has provided to maintain public services. We will announce our findings in due course.

Prior to liquidation, Carillion held approximately 450 contracts with government, representing 38% of Carillion’s 2016 reported revenue.

Back to table of contents

Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Fraser Munro
fraser.munro@ons.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 456402