1. Main points

  • Public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) decreased by £7.2 billion to £37.7 billion in the current financial year-to-date (April 2017 to January 2018), compared with the same period in the previous financial year; this is the lowest year-to-date net borrowing since the financial year-to-date ending January 2008.

  • The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecast that public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) will be £49.9 billion during the financial year ending March 2018, an increase of £4.1 billion on the outturn net borrowing in the financial year ending March 2017.

  • Public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) was in surplus by £10.0 billion in January 2018, which is £1.6 billion less of a surplus than in January 2017; this is the second-lowest January net borrowing (or second-highest surplus) on record (monthly recording of net borrowing began in April 1993).

  • Self-assessed Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax receipts (combined) were £18.4 billion in January 2018, which is £0.9 billion less than in January 2017: the proportion of self-assessed taxes recorded in January and February can vary year-on-year and it is therefore advisable to consider data for the two months (January and February) together.

  • Public sector net debt (excluding public sector banks) was £1,736.8 billion at the end of January 2018, equivalent to 84.1% of gross domestic product (GDP), an increase of £55.7 billion (or 0.4 percentage points as a ratio of GDP) on January 2017.

  • Public sector net debt (excluding both public sector banks and Bank of England) was £1,568.7 billion at the end of January 2018, equivalent to 75.9% of GDP, a decrease of £16.3 billion (or 3.0 percentage points as a ratio of GDP) on January 2017.

  • Central government net cash requirement decreased by £31.0 billion to £21.7 billion in the current financial year-to-date (April 2017 to January 2018), compared with the same period in the previous financial year; this is the lowest year-to-date central government net cash requirement since the financial year ending March 2008.

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2. In summary

Public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) is currently tracking below that of the last financial year. In January 2018, the gap in financial year-to-date borrowing has widened by £0.6 billion to £7.2 billion.

January is traditionally a month in which the public sector spends less than it receives in income. This is due largely to the receipt of self-assessed Income Tax. In January 2018, borrowing was in surplus by £10.0 billion; while this was £1.6 billion less of a surplus than in January 2017, it does represent the second-lowest January net borrowing (or second-highest surplus) on record (monthly recording of net borrowing began in April 1993).

In the current financial year-to-date, the public sector has borrowed £37.7 billion, with official forecasts expecting this figure to rise to £49.9 billion by the end of March 2018, though this projection may be revised at the Spring Statement (13 March 2018).

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3. What’s changed in this release?

This section presents information on aspects of data or methodology that is important to understand when reading this bulletin. Where appropriate, further details of individual changes are discussed in the “Quality and methodology” section of this bulletin.

Self-assessed tax receipts

In both January and (to a lesser extent) July, receipts are particularly high due to the receipt of self-assessed Income Tax, Capital Gains Tax and self-assessed (Class 4) National Insurance Contributions.

Self-assessed Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax receipts decreased by £0.9 billion to £18.4 billion in January 2018 compared with January 2017.

The revenue raised through self-assessed taxes, although affecting primarily January and July receipts, also tends to lead to high receipts in the following month (February and August respectively), although to a lesser degree.

The proportion of self-assessed taxes recorded in January and February can vary year-on-year and it is therefore advisable to consider data for the two months (January and February) together.

In January and February 2017 the government raised £26.1 billion in combined self-assessed Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax receipts (£19.3 billion in January and £6.8 billion in February). In the same period in 2016, the government raised £22.4 billion (£17.8 billion in January and £4.5 billion in February).

Value Added Tax

We are currently carrying out quality assurance work to identify and explain the differences in the presentation of tax receipts between ONS and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in their respective publications. As a part of this work we plan to expand our Quality and Methodology Information report to explain these presentational differences.

Quality assurance of the allocation of tax receipts between Customs and Excise duties and Inland Revenue receipts highlighted an opportunity to improve our allocation of cash receipts within the calculation of central government net cash requirement.

This month we have implemented this improvement for the first time, which has resulted in an increase in Value Added Tax (VAT) cash receipts within Customs and Excise duties of £0.7 billion in the financial year ending March 2017 and £1.9 billion in the current financial year-to-date; with equal and offsetting changes to Inland Revenue receipts.

This improvement has no impact on net cash requirement, net borrowing or net debt.

Value Added Tax on electronic services

On 1 January 2015, Value Added Tax (VAT) rules relating to the supply of telecommunications, radio and television broadcasting and electronically-supplied services changed.

Prior to 1 January 2015, supplies made by EU businesses to EU-resident customers were subject to VAT in the country where the suppliers were established; from 1 January 2015, the supplies have been subject to VAT in the country where the customer is resident. The tax changes are as a result of European legislation.

The legislation provides for a transition period of four years, during which the tax authority in the country where the supplier is located can retain a part of the VAT collected prior to passing on the remainder of the collected tax to the country where the customer is resident. From 1 January 2019, all collected tax must be transferred to the tax authority in the appropriate country.

Previously, the VAT on electronic services collected for the UK is recorded net of retained amounts; however, to comply with international guidance these collection fees are no longer recorded as tax but as current transfers between countries.

To comply with legislation, the accrued measure of VAT recorded in public sector finances has increased by an amount equal to the VAT retained by other EU countries (as an administration fee). This increase in accrued VAT is offset in central government expenditure as a current transfer.

The money that the UK retains will be recorded as a current transfer between countries (revenue) and as a result public sector net borrowing will be reduced by between £0.1 and £0.2 billion in each of the three financial years from that ending March 2016 to date.

Vehicle Excise Duty

This month we have updated the weights used to portion the Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) collected by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) between taxes on production (business users) and taxes on income and wealth (households).

This annual exercise, using data from the Annual Business Inquiry, has led to updated weights back to April 1997; however, we expect further updates to be limited to more recent financial years. These updates have had no net effect on the total VED receipts recorded in the estimation of public sector net borrowing.

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4. Recent events that may impact on public sector finances

This section acknowledges recent government announcements that may have future implications on public sector finances.

Pension Protection Fund and public sector pension schemes

In January 2018, we reconfirmed the national accounts sector classification of the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) as a public financial corporation, identifying it specifically as a public pension fund, a slight change from the previous classification as a public insurance corporation.

Currently the PPF is not included in the outturn statistics of the public sector finances and before we implement any change to this position we have initiated a wider review of the recording of public sector pension funds (including the PPF) within the public sector finances. This is necessary, as although the UK public sector finances are based on the principles and building blocks of national accounts, and in particular the European System of Accounts 2010 (ESA 2010), there are still decisions to be made regarding how public sector pension funds (including the PPF) should best be reflected within the fiscal aggregates published in public sector finances (such as whether funded pension schemes should be recorded from the perspective of the net pension liabilities of the government as an employer or whether the transactions, assets and liabilities of the pension funds themselves should also be included).

Given the relatively complex nature of the different options for the statistical recording of pensions, the Public Sector Finances Technical Advisory Group (PSFTAG) is evaluating the different options to arrive at a series of recommendations on which we will then be consulting. This consultation is likely to take place in late spring or early summer.

The PPF was established in 2005 under the provisions of the Pensions Act 2004. It is a statutory fund of last resort providing compensation to members of defined benefit pension schemes, when there is a qualifying insolvency event in relation to the employer. It is funded by levies paid by the pension schemes for which it provides protection as well as the assets of schemes that transfer into the PPF and its own investments.

The latest published accounts for the PPF show that as of March 2017 it had actuarial pension liabilities of £22.0 billion and net assets of £28.7 billion with £17.0 billion of these assets stated to be government bonds.

In September 2017, we published an article explaining the national accounts recording of public sector employee pension schemes and how these are currently reflected in the public sector finances.

On 7 March 2018 we plan to publish official statistics on the total obligations, or gross liabilities, of UK pension providers including the UK government. This paper will include estimates for state pensions, funded and unfunded public sector employee pension schemes and private sector pension schemes.

Carillion insolvency

Following the announcement of the insolvency of Carillion PLC, the government has stated that it will provide the necessary funding required by the Official Receiver to maintain public services. We are currently investigating the impact of the liquidation of Carillion on the public sector finances, both in relation to the public-private partnership projects in which Carillion was involved and the additional funding that government has provided in order to maintain public services. We will announce our findings in due course.

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

Student loans

On 18 February 2018, the Treasury Select Committee published the outcome of its inquiry on student loans. ONS provided evidence to the Select Committee and will be considering the findings of the Select Committee and whether they have any impact on the public sector finances in due course.

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5. Planned changes for future releases

When the supplementary fiscal aggregate of public sector net financial liabilities was first introduced in November 2016, we explained that we would work to improve the quality of the underlying data.

To date, the most significant improvement has been to the estimate of the net liability of government in relation to funded public sector pension schemes, which were introduced in the August 2017 bulletin. Our programme of work includes improving holdings of other public sector assets and liabilities; recently further progress has been made in improving loan assets and equity holdings. We will be introducing these over the course of the year, with initial improvements being made in the March 2018 bulletin (to be published 24 April 2018).

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6. Things you need to know about this release

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.

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.

If you’d like to know more about the relationship between debt and deficit, please refer to our article The debt and deficit of the UK public sector explained.

What does the public sector include?

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.

The sub-sector breakdown of public sector net borrowing is summarised in Table PSA2 in the Public sector finances Tables 1 to 10: Appendix A dataset.

Should I look at monthly or financial year-to-date data to understand public sector finances?

A financial year is an accounting period of 12 months running from 1 April one year to 31 March the following year. For example, the financial year ending March 2016 comprises the months from April 2015 to March 2016.

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

Are our figures adjusted for inflation?

All monetary values in the public sector finances (PSF) bulletin are expressed in terms of “current prices‟, that is, they represent the price in the period to which the expenditure or revenue relates and are not adjusted for inflation.

In order to compare data over long time periods, to aid international comparisons and provide an indication of a country’s ability to service borrowing and debt, commentators often discuss changes over time to fiscal aggregates in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) ratios. GDP represents the value of all the goods and services currently produced by the UK economy in a period of time.

The use of GDP in public sector fiscal ratio statistics

An article, The use of GDP in public sector fiscal ratio statistics, explains that for debt figures reported in the monthly public sector finances, a 12-month GDP total centred on the month is employed, while in the UK government debt and deficit statistical bulletin, the total GDP for the preceding 12 months is used.

As a consequence of using a centred GDP estimate, our estimates include a degree of official forecast data produced by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) and are subject to revision when OBR updates its estimates (usually in March and November each year).

Are our figures adjusted for seasonal patterns?

All monetary values in the public sector finances (PSF) bulletin are not seasonally adjusted. We recommend you use year-on-year comparisons (be it cumulative financial year-to-date or individual monthly borrowing figures) rather than making month-on-month comparisons.

Are our monthly figures likely to change over time?

Each PSF bulletin contains the first estimate of public sector borrowing for the most recent period and is likely to be revised in later months as more data become available.

In publishing monthly estimates, it is necessary to use a range of different types of data sources. Some of these are subject to revision as budget estimates (forecasts) are replaced by outturn data and these then feed into the published aggregates.

In addition to those that stem from updated data sources, revisions can also result from methodology changes. An example of the latter is the changes that were due to the introduction of improved methodology for the recording of Corporation Tax, Bank Corporation Tax Surcharge receipts and Bank Levy implemented in the PSF estimates released in February 2017.

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7. How much is the public sector borrowing?

In the current financial year-to-date (April 2017 to January 2018), the public sector spent more money than it received in taxes and other income. This meant it had to borrow £37.7 billion; that is, £7.2 billion less than in the same period in the previous financial year.

Of this £37.7 billion of public sector net borrowing excluding public sector banks (PSNB ex), £7.2 billion related to the cost of the “day-to-day” activities of the public sector (the current budget deficit), while £30.5 billion related to capital spending (or net investment) such as infrastructure.

Figure 2 presents both monthly and cumulative public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) in the current financial year-to-date and compares these with 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 current financial year-to-date, of the £37.7 billion borrowed by the public sector, £34.6 billion was borrowed by central government.

In the current financial year-to-date, central government received £578.8 billion in income, including £437.4 billion in taxes. This was around 4% more than in the same period in the previous financial year.

Over the same period, central government spent £598.3 billion, around 3% more than in the same period in the previous financial year. 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 remaining being spent on capital investment and interest on government’s outstanding debt.

Appendix D to this release contains a detailed breakdown of public sector current receipts.

Figure 3 summarises public sector borrowing by sub-sector in the current financial year-to-date (April 2017 to January 2018) and compares these with the same period in the previous financial year.

This presentation splits PSNB ex into each of its four sub-sectors: central government, local government, public corporations and Bank of England.

A further breakdown (receipts, expenditure (both current and capital) and depreciation) is provided for central government, local government and public corporations, with central government current receipts and current expenditure being presented in further detail.

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

In the financial year ending March 2017 (April 2016 to March 2017), the public sector borrowed £45.8 billion, or 2.3% of gross domestic product (GDP). This was £27.3 billion lower than in the previous full financial year and around one-third of that borrowed in the financial year ending March 2010, when borrowing was £153.0 billion or 9.9% of GDP.

Since the first estimate of public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) for the financial year ending March 2017 (April 2016 to March 2017) was published on 25 April 2017, the estimate has been revised downwards by £6.2 billion, from £52.0 billion to £45.8 billion. However, these are not final figures and may be revised further over the coming months as we replace our provisional estimates with final outturn data.

Currently, for the financial year ending March 2017:

  • central government net borrowing comprises largely audited account data

  • local government data are mainly based on final outturn figures published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the devolved administrations

  • public corporations’ net borrowing is based on provisional returns from HM Treasury Whole of Government Accounts for the financial year ending March 2017, final outturn figures published by the MHCLG, published accounts for individual public corporations and OBR forecasts

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.

Appendix G shows revisions to the first reported estimate of financial-year-end public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) by sub-sector. It summarises revisions to the first estimate of public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) by sub-sector for the last six financial years. Revisions are shown at 6 and 12 months after year-end.

We have published an article, Public Sector Finances – Sources summary and their timing (PDF, 23KB), which provides a brief summary of the different sources used and the implications of using those data in the monthly public sector finances (PSF) statistical bulletin.

Focusing on the current month

January is traditionally a month in which the public sector spends less than it receives in income. This is due largely to the receipt of self-assessed Income Tax. In January 2018, borrowing was in surplus by £10.0 billion; while this was £1.6 billion less of a surplus than in January 2017, it does represent the second-lowest January net borrowing (or second-highest surplus) on record (monthly recording of net borrowing began in April 1993).

In January 2018, there was £0.2 billion transferred from the Bank of England Asset Purchase Facility Fund (APF) to HM Treasury; £1.8 billion less than in January 2017. This fall was reflected in the decrease in interest and dividends paid to central government.

In January 2018, the total of “other receipts” decreased by £0.7 billion compared with January 2017. In January 2017, the government received £0.5 billion as a result of a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with Rolls-Royce PLC and a Financial Conduct Authority fine of £0.2 billion from Deutsche Bank AG. There were no such payments received by central government in January 2018.

Appendix D to this release contains a detailed breakdown of public sector current receipts.

Figure 5 summarises public sector borrowing by sub-sector in January 2018 and compares this with the equivalent measures in the same month a year earlier (January 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.

A further breakdown (receipts, current expenditure, capital expenditure and depreciation) is provided for central government, local government and public corporations. Central government current receipts and current expenditure are presented in further detail.

Both local government and public corporations data for January 2018 are provisional estimates.

While some components of local government net borrowing are still based on Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts, principally these have now been replaced with budget data received from MHCLG and the devolved administrations.

Components of public corporations’ net borrowing remain calculated by Office for National Statistics (ONS) and are based on estimates for financial year ending March 2017 for the majority of public corporations, and a combination of quarterly survey returns and OBR forecasts for larger public corporations.

For both local government and public corporations, administrative source data are used for transfers to each of these sectors from central government.

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8. How big is public sector debt?

The amount of money owed by the public sector to the private sector stood at around £1.7 trillion at the end of January 2018, which equates to 84.1% of the value of all the goods and services currently produced by the UK economy in a year (or gross domestic product (GDP)).

This £1.7 trillion (or £1,736.8 billion) debt at the end of January 2018 represents an increase of £55.7 billion since the end of January 2017.

Following passage of the Regulation of Social Housing (Influence of Local Authorities) (England) Regulations 2017, we have concluded that housing associations (HAs) in England are now private market producers and as such they have been reclassified to the private non-financial corporations sub-sector for the purpose of national accounts and other economic statistics. This reclassification took effect from 16 November 2017, the date the regulations came into force. Prior to this date they remained classified as public non-financial corporations. As of the end of October 2017, English HAs’ net debt amounted to £65.5 billion, which from November 2017 is no longer to be counted as public sector debt.

Since January 2017, the debt associated with Bank of England increased by £72.0 billion to £168.1 billion. Nearly all of this growth is due to the activities of the Asset Purchase Facility, which includes £73.0 billion from the Term Funding Scheme (TFS).

If we were to exclude the activities of the Bank of England in the estimation of public sector net debt (excluding public sector banks), then public sector net debt (excluding both public sector banks and Bank of England) would reduce by £168.1 billion, from £1,736.8 billion to £1,568.7 billion, or from 84.1% of GDP to 75.9%.

Figure 6 breaks down outstanding public sector net debt at the end of January 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.

Net debt is defined as total gross financial liabilities less liquid financial assets, where liquid assets are cash and short-term assets, which can be released for cash at short notice without significant loss. These liquid assets comprise mainly foreign exchange reserves and bank deposits.

Figure 7 presents public sector net debt excluding public sector banks (PSND ex) at the end of January 2018 by sub-sector. Time series for each of these component series are presented in Tables PSA8A to D in the Public sector finances Tables 1 to 10: Appendix A dataset.

Figure 8 illustrates PSND ex from the financial year ending March 1994 to the end of January 2018.

PSND ex increased at the time of the economic downturn. Since then, it has continued to increase but at a slower rate. The introduction of the Term Funding Scheme in late 2016 has led to a rise 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).

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9. How much cash does the public sector need to raise?

The net cash requirement is a measure of how much cash the public sector needs to raise from the financial markets (or pay out from its cash reserves) to finance its activities. This amount can be close to net borrowing for the same period but there are some transactions, for example, lending to the private sector or the purchase of shares, that need to be financed but do not contribute to net borrowing. Similarly, repayments of principal on loans extended by government or sales of shares will reduce the level of financing necessary but not reduce the net borrowing.

Figure 9 presents public sector cash requirement by sub-sector in the current financial year-to-date (April 2017 to January 2018). Time series for each of these component series are presented in Table PSA7A in the Public sector finances Tables 1 to 10: Appendix A dataset.

Central government net cash requirement (CGNCR) is a focus for some users, as it provides an indication of the volume of gilts (government bonds) the Debt Management Office may issue to meet the government’s borrowing requirements.

In the current financial year-to-date (April 2017 to January 2018), CGNCR was £21.7 billion, that is, £31.0 billion less than in the same period in the previous year. A number of one-off factors have contributed to this decrease.

The sale of central government assets

The sale of £11.8 billion of Bradford and Bingley loans to Prudential plc in April 2017, reduced CGNCR by a corresponding amount in the current financial year-to-date.

The redemption of index-linked gilts

The redemption of any government security requires the raising of cash to pay investors:

  • the redemption of a 2.5% index-linked gilt in July 2016 required £9.4 billion to repay investors

  • the redemption of a 1.25% index-linked gilt in November 2017 required £4.2 billion to repay investors

While both these redemptions increased CGNCR by a corresponding amount in their respective financial year-to-date, £5.2 billion less cash was required in the current financial year-to-date than in the corresponding period in the previous financial year.

CGNCR is quoted both including and excluding the net cash requirement of Network Rail (NR) and UK Asset Resolution Ltd (UKAR, which manages the closed mortgage books of both Bradford and Bingley, and Northern Rock Asset Management). It is the CGNCR excluding NR and UKAR that is the particular focus of users with an interest in the gilt market.

CGNCR excluding NR and UKAR decreased by £33.7 billion to £22.8 billion in the current financial year-to-date (April 2017 to January 2018) compared with the same period in the financial year ending March 2017. 

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10. How was debt in the current financial year-to-date accumulated?

Figure 10 brings together the borrowing components detailed in Figure 3 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 2017 to January 2018).

This presentation excludes public sector banks, focusing instead on the public sector net borrowing excluding public sector banks (PSNB ex) measure.

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.

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11. How do these figures compare with official forecasts?

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) normally produces forecasts of the public finances twice a year (currently in March and November). The OBR forecasts used in this bulletin are based on those published on 22 November 2017.

The government has adopted OBR forecasts as its official forecast.

The OBR forecasts that the public sector will borrow £49.9 billion during the current financial year (April 2017 to March 2018), an increase of £4.1 billion on the current outturn estimate for the financial year ending March 2017.

Figure 11 presents the cumulative public sector net borrowing for the latest and previous full financial years. The figure also presents the OBR forecast for the latest financial year.

The monthly path of spending and receipts is not smooth within the financial year and also can vary compared with previous years, both of which can affect year-on-year comparisons.

Table 1 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 year-to-date outturn estimates with those of the previous financial year-to-date.

Caution should be taken when comparing public sector finances data with OBR figures for the full financial year, as data are not finalised until sometime 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.

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12. Revisions since previous release

Revisions can be the result of both updated data sources and methodology changes. This month, many of the reported revisions are as a result of updated data sources; however, some revisions are a result of our changes to VAT methodology outlined in Section 3.

Table 2 presents the revisions to the headline statistics presented in this bulletin compared with those presented in the previous publication (published on 23 January 2018).

Revisions to public sector net borrowing in the current financial year-to-date

Public sector net borrowing excluding public sector banks (PSNB ex) for the period April to December 2017 has been revised down by £2.3 billion compared with figures presented in the previous bulletin (published on 23 January 2018).

Figure 12 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).

Given that, in the latest financial year-to-date, £34.6 billion of the £37.7 billion borrowed by the public sector was borrowed by central government, a further breakdown of central government current receipts and current expenditure is provided to reflect the significance of these components.

Central government net borrowing was revised down by £3.1 billion, partially due to a £1.5 billion increase in the estimate of taxes, where updated cash data received from HM Revenue and Customs have replaced previous forecasts and further informed accrued (time-adjusted cash) estimates. Revisions to tax receipts are not unusual and occur to varying extents each month as (provisional) outturn data replace forecasts.

Transfers from central to local government have been revised down by £0.7 billion, resulting in a reduction to the estimate of central government net borrowing but having an equal and opposite effect on local government net borrowing, which increased by £0.8 billion over the same period.

Revisions to public sector net borrowing in previous financial years

The implementation of the legislative changes to the recording of VAT on electronic services has led to an increase of £0.2 billion in VAT in both the financial years ending March 2016 and 2017.

These VAT increases have led to a decrease in the estimate of PSNB ex of £0.1 billion and £0.2 billion respectively over the same periods since the previous PSF publication (published on 21 January 2018).

The reporting of errors in the public sector finances dataset

It is important to note that revisions do not occur as a result of errors; errors lead to corrections and are identified as such when they occur. There are no errors to report in this bulletin.

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13. 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 2018, we published the latest UK government debt and deficit statistical bulletin, consistent with the November 2017 public sector finances bulletin (published on 21 December 2017). In this publication we stated that:

  • general government gross debt was £1,720.0 billion at the end of March 2017, equivalent to 86.7% of gross domestic product (GDP); an increase of £68.1 billion on March 2016

  • general government deficit (or net borrowing) was £46.9 billion in the financial year ending March 2017 (April 2016 to March 2017), equivalent to 2.4% of GDP; a decrease of £29.0 billion on March 2016

This bulletin reports an unchanged estimate of general government gross debt compared with that published on 21 December 2017; however, the estimate of deficit in the financial year ending March 2017 has been revised up by £0.2 billion to £47.1 billion.

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.

An article, The use of GDP in public sector fiscal ratio statistics, explains that for debt figures reported in the monthly public sector finances, a 12-month GDP total centred on the month is employed, while in the UK government debt and deficit statistical bulletin, the total GDP for the preceding 12 months is used.

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14. Quality and methodology

The public sector finances Quality and Methodology Information 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

How is the debt interest paid by the government affected by movements in the level of Retail Price Index?

Index-linked gilts, a form of government bond, are indexed to the Retail Prices Index (RPI). When the RPI rises, the inflation uplift that applies to index-linked cash flows (both regular coupon payments and final payment at gilt maturity) also rises. If the RPI should fall, the inflation uplift would also fall. In this way, the returns to the investor from holding index-linked gilts are maintained in real terms – as measured by the RPI.

Taking £100 as the unit price for a gilt, an index-linked gilt will pay more than £100 at redemption if the RPI increases over the life of the gilt. Similarly, if the RPI increases over the life of the gilt each coupon payment will be higher than the previous one; while if the RPI were to decrease, a coupon payment could be lower than the previous one.

Both the uplift on coupon payments and the uplift on the redemption value are recorded as debt interest paid by the government, so month-on-month there can be sizeable movements in payable government debt interest as a result of movements in the RPI.

Time series of central government debt interest (series identifier NMFX) and the index-linked gilt capital uplift (series identifier MW7L) are available in Tables PSA6B and REC3 in the tables associated with this release or by searching directly by series identifier.

Adjustments to local government data in the current financial year-to-date

Most local government data are annual, relating to financial years (April to March), and based on information collected from local authorities by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the devolved administrations.

The data are collected in two main phases: budget, before the start of the financial year, and outturn, after the end of the financial year.

Some information is available within the year and this is taken into account wherever possible.

In recent years, planned expenditure initially reported in 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 and this affects the figures for the latest financial year-to-date.

UK Statistics Authority assessment of public sector finances

On 20 June 2017, the UK Statistics Authority published a letter confirming the designation of the monthly public sector finances bulletin as a National Statistic. This letter completes the 2015 assessment of public sector finances.

In order to meet the requirements of this assessment we published an article, Quality assurance of administrative data used in the UK public sector finances. This report provides an assessment of the administrative data sources used in the compilation of the public sector finances statistics in accordance with the UK Statistics Authority’s Administrative Data Quality Assurance Toolkit.

How classification decisions are made

Each quarter we publish a forward workplan outlining the classification assessments we expect to undertake over the coming 12 months. To supplement this, each month a classifications update is published, which announces classification decisions made and includes expected implementation points (for different statistics) where possible.

Classification decisions are reflected in the public sector finances at the first available opportunity and, where necessary, outlined in this section of the statistical bulletin.

The Monthly statistics on the public sector finances: a methodological guide (PDF, 360KB) was last updated in August 2012. We are currently working to update this publication.

Pre-release access to ONS statistics

On 15 June 2017, the National Statistician announced that from 1 July 2017 pre-release access to Office for National Statistics (ONS) statistics would cease. While there is no longer any pre-release access granted to the public sector finances bulletin, it should be noted that this bulletin remains jointly produced by members of the Government Statistical Service (GSS) working in both ONS and HM Treasury.

GSS staff will continue to work together to produce the bulletin but ministers and those officials not directly involved in the production and release of statistics will not have access to them in advance of publication.

Time series data

We recently reviewed and improved the content of our downloadable time series data file consistent with the data underlying each public sector finances statistical bulletin and the accompanying public sector finances borrowing by sub-sector presentation.

All data contained within these publications are available to download via the Public sector finances time series dataset. From April 1997 to date, where available, time series are presented as monthly data, with series extending further back in time, generally presented on a quarterly or financial year basis.

Time series exclusive to the public sector finances borrowing by sub-sector presentation are only available as quarterly time series, though these extend back to 1946.

Supporting documentation

Documentation supporting this publication is available in appendices to the bulletin:

Public sector borrowing by sub-sector

Each month, at 9.30am on the working day following the public sector finances statistical bulletin, we publish Public sector finances borrowing by sub-sector. This release contains an extended breakdown of public sector borrowing in a matrix format and also estimates of total managed expenditure (TME).

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

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