Public sector finances, UK: October 2018

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

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This is an accredited national statistic.

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Release date:
21 November 2018

Next release:
21 December 2018

1. Main points

  • Borrowing (Public sector net borrowing excluding public sector banks) in October 2018 was £8.8 billion, £1.6 billion more than in October 2017; this was the highest October borrowing for three years (since 2015).

  • Borrowing in the current financial year-to-date (YTD) was £26.7 billion: £11.2 billion less than in the same period in 2017; the lowest year-to-date for 13 years (since 2005).

  • On 29 October 2018, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) revised their official forecast of borrowing for the financial year ending (FYE) March 2019 down by £11.6 billion to £25.5 billion.

  • Borrowing in the FYE March 2018 was £40.1 billion: £5.5 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 October 2018 was £1,791.6 billion (or 84.0% of gross domestic product (GDP)); an increase of £1.9 billion (or a decrease of 2.7 percentage points) on October 2017.

  • Debt at the end of October 2018 excluding Bank of England (mainly quantitative easing) was £1,598.5 billion (or 75.0% of GDP); a decrease of £33.6 billion (or a decrease of 4.0 percentage points) on October 2017.

  • Central government net cash requirement in the current financial YTD was £16.1 billion (£1.8 billion less than financial YTD 2017) or £17.3 billion excluding both UK Asset Resolution Ltd and Network Rail (£1.6 billion less than in financial YTD 2017).

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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.

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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.

Bank of England Asset Purchase Facility Fund

In October 2018, there was a £2.8 billion dividend transfer from the Bank of England Asset Purchase Facility Fund (BEAPFF) to HM Treasury. As with other such transfers, central government net borrowing will be reduced by an amount equivalent to the transfer, while the net borrowing of Bank of England will be increased by an equal and offsetting amount, with no impact at a public sector borrowing level.

The Bank of England entrepreneurial income for the financial year ending March 2018 (April 2017 to March 2018) was calculated as £14.1 billion. This is the total amount of dividend transfers that can impact on central government net borrowing in the financial year ending March 2019 (April 2018 to March 2019). So far in this financial year-to-date (April to October 2018), £8.1 billion in dividends have transferred from the BEAPFF to HM Treasury, compared with £9.1 billion in the same period last year.

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4. How much is the public sector borrowing?

In October 2018, the public sector spent more money than it received in taxes and other income. This meant it had to borrow £8.8 billion; that is, £1.6 billion more than the same period in October 2017. This was the highest October borrowing for three years.

Of this £8.8 billion, £7.0 billion was borrowed by central government and £1.9 billion by the Bank of England.

Central government receipts in October 2018 increased by 1.2% compared with October 2017, to £59.9 billion; while total expenditure increased by 7.7% to £65.4 billion.

Much of this annual growth in central government receipts in October 2018 came from Value Added Tax (VAT), Income Tax and tobacco duties; while interest and dividend receipts (largely dividend transfers from the Bank of England Asset Purchase Facility Fund) (BEAPFF) have fallen on October 2017.

If we were to exclude the £2.8 billion dividend transfer from the BEAPFF to HM Treasury, then central government net borrowing in October 2018 would have been £9.8 billion, a £2.7 billion growth on October 2017, while the the Bank of England would have recorded a net surplus borrowing of £0.9 billion, £0.3 billion less of a surplus than in October 2017.

This month, much of the increase in spending was in the current account, with notable growth in both the expenditure on goods and services as well as net social benefits. Over the same period, interest payments on the government’s outstanding debt have increased; due largely to movements in the Retail Prices Index to which index-linked bonds are pegged.

Current transfers from central to local government increased by £0.7 billion compared with October 2017. As with other such transfers, central government net borrowing increased by an amount equivalent to the transfer, while the net borrowing of local government reduced by an equal and offsetting amount, with no impact at a public sector borrowing level.

Figure 1 summarises public sector borrowing by sub-sector in October 2018 and compares this with the equivalent measures in the same month a year earlier (October 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 October 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 October 2018), public sector spending exceeded the money that it received in taxes and other income. This meant it had to borrow £26.7 billion; that is, £11.2 billion less than the same period in 2017. Borrowing so far this financial year was the lowest for any April to October period for 13 years.

Of this £26.7 billion borrowed by the public sector in this period, £8.9 billion related to the cost of the “day-to-day” activities of the public sector (the current budget deficit), while £17.8 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 October 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 October 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 October 2018), of the £26.7 billion borrowed by the public sector, £29.8 billion was borrowed by central government, while local government was in surplus by £4.9 billion.

In the current financial YTD, central government received £413.6 billion in income, including £309.4 billion in taxes. This was around 4% more than in the same period in 2017.

Over the same period, central government spent £432.6 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 remaining 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 £40.1 billion (or 1.9% of gross domestic product (GDP)) borrowed by the public sector was around one-quarter of PSNB ex in the FYE March 2010, when borrowing was £153.1 billion (or 9.9% of GDP).

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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 October 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 October 2017, the net debt associated with the Bank of England (BoE) increased by £35.4 billion to £193.1 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 October 2018 was £126.4 billion.

If we were to exclude the activities of the BoE in the estimation of public sector net debt (excluding public sector banks), it would reduce by £193.1 billion, from £1,791.6 billion to £1,598.5 billion, or from 84.0% of GDP to 75.0%.

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

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6. Revisions since previous release

Revisions can be the result of both updated data sources and methodology changes. This month, revisions to net borrowing are as a result of updated data sources only.

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. This month we have no errors to report.

Table 1 presents the revisions to the headline statistics presented in this bulletin compared with those presented in the previous publication (published on 19 October 2018).

Revisions to public sector net borrowing (excluding public sector banks) in the current financial year-to-date (April to September 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) has been revised down by £2.0 billion compared with figures presented in the previous bulletin (published on 19 October 2018), almost entirely due to new data received in the central government account.

The estimate of central government receipts for the period April to September 2018 increased by £1.3 billion; with tax receipts increasing by £0.5 billion and National Insurance contributions increasing by £0.8 billion.

Over the same period, estimates for central government current expenditure reduced by £0.5 billion; due largely to a decrease in expenditure on goods and services associated. Capital expenditure (net investment) reduced by £0.2 billion, with reductions to previous estimates of gross capital formation and transfers from central government to the private sector.

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 (19 October 2018), estimates of public sector net borrowing for the financial year ending (FYE) March 2018 have increased by £0.2 billion. Estimates of central government receipts have decreased by £0.2 billion; due largely to a £0.2 billion reduction to the estimate of Corporation Tax.

Revisions to public sector net debt including public sector banks

This month we received updated public sector banks’ balance sheet data covering the period January to June 2018. These data have enabled us to update previous estimates of the net cash requirement and net debt associated with public sector banks. Further, estimates covering the period July 2018 to date have been updated to reflect this new information.

As a consequence of receiving these data, our estimate of public sector net cash requirement including public sector banks for the financial year ending March 2018 (April 2017 to March 2018) has been increased by £6.0 billion; while our estimate of public sector net debt including public sector banks at the end of September 2018 has increased by £15.5 billion.

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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; 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 October 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.

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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 19 October 2018, we published UK government debt and deficit: June 2018, consistent with Public sector finances, UK: August 2018 (published on 21 September 2018). In this publication we stated that:

  • general government gross debt was £1,763.8 billion at the end of March 2018, equivalent to 85.6% of gross domestic product (GDP); 25.6 percentage points above the Maastricht reference value of 60.0%

  • general government deficit (or net borrowing) was £41.0 billion in the financial year ending (FYE) March 2018, equivalent to 2.0% of GDP; 1.0 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 £0.2 billion, to £41.2 billion, compared with that published on 19 October 2018; 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 was 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.

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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 a 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. Further information on these and additional adjustments can be found in the public sector finances methodological guide.

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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.

Fines and penalties

We are currently investigating our recording of fines and penalties for the late payment of taxes to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Any additional revenue identified and recorded by the inclusion of such payments will increase central government receipts and so reduce public sector net borrowing.

Based on our ongoing investigation, we expect borrowing to reduce by around £0.7 billion in the financial year ending (FYE) March 2018 due to this revenue increase. We will introduce these changes at the earliest opportunity.

Any revisions to fines and penalties data for periods prior to FYE March 2018 will be implemented at a future point once further investigations are concluded.

The treatment of student loans in the public sector finances

Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced on 24 April 2018 that it would review the treatment of student loans in the UK government’s accounts. This is to ensure that the way these loans are treated reflects how the system works in practice as well as being in line with international best practice. This review followed recommendations from both the Treasury Select Committee and the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee (PDF, 1.6MB).

ONS will announce its decision on how these loans will be treated on 17 December 2018. However, 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 by the end of 2019.

Further information on the review can be found in the July Developments in Public Sector Finances article.

The treatment of pensions in the public sector finances

On 31 August 2018, our consultation concerning the treatment of pensions within the public sector finances closed.

Having carefully considered the responses to the consultation, we have decided to implement each of the three recommendations made by the Public Sector Finances Technical Advisory Group, namely:

  • to include assets and liabilities of the funded public sector employment-related pension schemes in the ex- (and consequently in the inc-) measures

  • to record the Pension Protection Fund in the ex- (and consequently in the inc-) boundary

  • to report obligations of the unfunded public sector pension schemes, both employment-related and those that cover the wider population, in a supplementary table published alongside the main PSF presentation, but not in either the inc- or the ex-measures

The work on implementing these recommendations has commenced and we expect it to be completed by the end of 2019. We intend to announce the exact implementation date in the Public sector finances (PSF) statistical bulletin and provide estimates of the expected impact in advance of the implementation. It should be noted that there is a considerable time lag in the availability of outturn data on pension fund assets and actuarial liabilities, which can exceed three years for some pension schemes. This may lead to revisions to historic fiscal aggregates once the modelled estimates are replaced with the outturn data.

We would like to thank respondents for their time and effort in responding to the consultation.

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 in order 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.

Recent announcements concerning the Term Funding Scheme

On 21 June 2018, the government published a new Memorandum of Understanding between HM Treasury and the Bank of England (BoE), which sets 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 (TFS) (PDF, 1.4MB) will be transferred from the Bank of England Asset Purchase Facility Fund (APF) to the BoE’s own balance sheet and that the HM Treasury indemnity for it was being removed.

TFS was introduced in 2016, as a quantitative easing measure under the APF umbrella, to enable financial institutions to cut the time in passing on interest rate reductions to consumers and businesses.

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

Further, to enable the BoE to take TFS on balance sheet without an indemnity from the Treasury, a capital injection of £1.2 billion from HM Treasury to the BoE has been announced. The nature of the capital injection will be formally discussed at a classifications meeting and announced in due course.  

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.

Carillion insolvency

Following Carillion Plc declaring insolvency on 15 January 2018, the UK government announced that it will 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 in order 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.

Housing associations

Following the reclassification of Welsh housing associations from the public to private sector in September 2018, only housing associations in Northern Ireland remain classified within the public sector. The Department for Communities Northern Ireland launched a consultation on the future of House Sales Schemes in Northern Ireland, running between 3 July and 24 September 2018. We will review the classification of housing associations in Northern Ireland at an appropriate time based on the outcomes of this consultation.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

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