Executive summary

This report provides information on the quality of data provided in the publications related to the Public Sector Finances (PSF) bulletin and the Government deficit and debt under the Maastricht Treaty bulletin.

Under EU law, both data sets are compiled in accordance with the standards set out in the European System of Accounts (ESA). From September 2014, the PSF and Excessive Deficit Procedure (EDP) publications will be based on ESA2010 (rather than ESA95). The impact of this move is explained later in the Concepts and definitions section.

The PSF statistical bulletin reports on financial statistics based on expenditure and receipts by the public sector for UK purposes. The headline measures are the public sector current budget deficit, public sector net borrowing, public sector net cash requirement and public sector net debt. These statistics are presented in pounds sterling and as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP).

The statistical bulletin is a monthly publication produced jointly by ONS and HM Treasury (HMT) and based on the National Accounts framework. It is compiled using administrative data from central and local government departments and annual reports of public corporations.

From September 2014, ONS public sector finances statistics are provided under 2 definitions:

  • the first basis includes the impact of public sector banking groups, the new definition relates to the changes in the treatment of assets and transactions unrelated to public sector banks for measures of debt and borrowing; to understand the terms in more detail see Developments to Public Sector Finances Statistics – June 2014 update
  • the second excludes the effects of the public sector banking groups

The Government deficit and debt Maastricht statistical bulletin provides quarterly, financial year and calendar year data for the purpose of international comparability. The main statistics are:

  • UK general government gross debt
  • UK general government deficit (or net borrowing)
  • the non-financial accounts of the general government sector
  • the financial accounts and financial balance sheet of the general government sector

The key methodological and quality documents are:

The statistics in the PSF bulletin are designated as UK National Statistics, which means that they are produced, managed and disseminated according to the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.

This document contains the following sections:

  • Output quality
  • About the output
  • How the output is created
  • Validation and quality assurance
  • Concepts and definitions
  • Other information, relating to quality trade-offs and user needs
  • Sources for further information or advice

Output quality

This document provides a range of information that describes the quality of the data and details any points that should be noted when using the output.

We have developed Guidelines for measuring statistical quality; these are based upon the 5 European Statistical System (ESS) Quality Dimensions. This document addresses these quality dimensions and other important quality characteristics, which are:

  • relevance
  • timeliness and punctuality
  • coherence and comparability
  • accuracy
  • output quality trade-offs
  • assessment of user needs and perceptions
  • accessibility and clarity

More information is provided about these quality dimensions in the following sections.

About the output

Range of measures published

In this bulletin we publish the headline measures of borrowing and debt (PSNB ex and PSND ex) in tables as well as the wider measures of borrowing and debt that include public sectors banks.

Since 1997, it has been an essential feature of the UK public sector finances' fiscal measures that they are based on national accounts and European Government Finance Statistics concepts. It is important that these fiscal measures continue to be aligned with these international standards to ensure a high degree of comparability between domestic and international measures, and because the government bases its fiscal policy on these aligned measures.

Relevance

The degree to which the statistical outputs meet users’ needs.

Public Sector Finance (PSF) statistics for the UK have been developed to meet user needs. Firstly, by adopting the ESA framework and secondly, as a response to the financial crisis that began in 2007.

Between 2007 and August 2014, statistics were presented on an “including” and “excluding” financial intervention basis. However, in response to a review of public sector finances (completed in February 2014), from September 2014, these measures were simplified and produced on an including and excluding public sector banks bases.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), HM Treasury, City analysts, research institutes and the media use the data as a measure of key public sector financial statistics such as Public Sector current budget deficit, net borrowing, net cash requirement, net debt and net debt as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP).

The data included in the PSF and Government deficit and debt Maastricht statistical bulletins are used to analyse the current economic and fiscal climate.

HM Treasury and OBR use the data as a means of assessing performance against the government’s fiscal targets. The estimates influence decisions on economic and fiscal policy. Other users such as the Bank of England, analysts, investors and researchers use the data to assess government control and handling of the economy and to anticipate movements in the financial and non-financial markets.

PSF data are also supplied to and analysed by influential international organisations and agencies such as the Organisation of Economic Countries Development (OECD), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB).

The European Commission uses public sector financial statistics aligned with the quarterly National Accounts data to monitor performance against the Maastricht Treaty and the Stability and Growth Pact through the Excessive Deficit Procedure (EDP).

For further information on data users see Users of Government Finance Statistics. Wider user needs are covered later in the Assessment of user needs section.

The administrative data used to compile these publications come from numerous sources including:

Source Data
HM Treasury · Departmental spend
· Government cash requirement
HM Revenue and Customs · Tax receipts
· VAT refunds
Debt Management Office · Gilts and treasury bonds
Bank of England · Bank and building society deposits
· Public sector bank profit/loss statement and balance sheet
Department for Communities and Local Government · Local Government net cash requirement
· Council Tax
· National Non Domestic Rates (NNDR)
Department of Work and Pensions · Benefits data
Department of Finance and Personnel Northern Ireland · Borrowing and Investment
Public Works Loan Board · Central to Local Government lending
NS&I · Net financing data 

Timeliness and punctuality

Timeliness refers to the lapse of time between publication and the period to which the data refer. Punctuality refers to the gap between planned and actual publication dates.

The PSF Statistical bulletins are compiled between the first working day of the month and the 13th working day, generally published 15 working days after the end of the reference month and consistently meet the 09:30 release time. When the 15th working day is a Monday, publication is delayed until the Tuesday to enable those with pre-release access to receive early sight of the bulletin on a working day.

The Government deficit and debt under the Maastricht Treaty statistical bulletin is published quarterly (mid-April, July, October and January), while the data used to compile each bulletin is submitted to Eurostat on the last working day of March, June, September and December prior to the following month’s publication.

For more details on related releases, the Gov UK is available online and provides 12 months’ advance notice of release dates. In the unlikely event of a change to the pre-announced release schedule, public attention will be drawn to the change and the reasons for the change will be explained fully at the same time, as set out in the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.

How the output is created

A large amount of administrative data are provided on spreadsheets by our suppliers while a small amount of data (predominantly gilts, PC and Bank of England borrowing data) taken from published sources. Data suppliers are responsible for ensuring that the data are of appropriate quality for their own purposes and ONS has assured itself that these data meet the necessary legal requirements for robust data on public sector finances.

There is a close and constant working relationship between ONS and HM Treasury as the Public Sector Finance (PSF) bulletin is a joint publication. A quality assurance meeting between ONS and HM Treasury is held on or around the 13th working day of the month.

The source data are used to compile aggregate data series for which checks on consistency and accuracy are performed. These mainly focus on identifying and explaining any:

  • missing data
  • significant revisions
  • unusual growth rates

Any anomalies are referred to and discussed with suppliers. Due to the nature of these data (for example, departmental spend and tax data) our suppliers either collect data from the total unit population or, in the case of taxes, what come in. Consequently, imputation and estimation are not appropriate. If there are any missing financial data then forecast data are used.

Compilation of the data included in Government deficit and debt under the Maastricht Treaty takes place in the weeks leading up to publication and largely uses the same data sources as used for the PSF. The methods applied follow guidance provided in the Manual on Government Deficit and Debt 2010, which supplements and augments ESA10 in relation to Excessive Deficit Procedure (EDP) requirements. Eurostat provides templates for key data to be supplied, which incorporate validation tools and other consistency checks.

Due to the level of aggregation and the fact that the data are published separately by the suppliers, disclosure is generally not an issue for PSF and EDP. If a disclosure issue does arise it is resolved and explained in a published article.

Further information on methodological issues concerning statistics on PSF is available through the methodological guide. All methods used to compile data in the bulletins are referenced under ESA10 and SNA08.

OSCAR – Online System for Central Accounting and Reporting

In June 2010, HM Treasury published, as part of the government transparency agenda, raw data from the Combined Online Information System (COINS) database (the predecessor to OSCAR) for the financial years ending March 2006 to 2010. From September 2012 onwards the data releases have been made from Online System for Central Accounting and Reporting (OSCAR), the replacement for COINS. The latest in-year quarterly data was released on 21 December 2016, and the latest annual data were released on 17 November 2016. The data are accessible from HM Treasury’s website.

The alignment of public sector finance with the UK government debt and deficit for Eurostat statistical bulletin

Each quarter (March, June, September and December) public sector finance (PSF) data are aligned to the data reported in the UK government debt and deficit for Eurostat statistical bulletin to take advantage of the more detailed quarterly data underpinning the latter publication.

In order for the latest month and financial year-to-date to reflect the latest available information, while ensuring coherence between the UK government debt and deficit for Eurostat statistical bulletin output and the PSF statistical bulletin:

  • the latest reported month reflects the most up-to-date PSF data available
  • the quarterly data in the periods common to both the UK government debt and deficit for Eurostat statistical bulletin and PSF are aligned
  • the estimates for the month immediately prior to the latest month (and following that aligned to the UK government debt and deficit for Eurostat statistical bulletin) are calculated by taking the latest data for the cumulative financial year-to-date and subtracting both the cumulative totals for those aligned quarters in the financial year and the latest month estimates

For example, in the PSF published in September:

  • the August estimates use the latest reported data
  • the PSF data in the period April to June are aligned to the UK government debt and deficit for Eurostat statistical bulletin
  • the July figures are derived from the financial year-to-date (April to August) less the sum of the aligned period (April to June) and August

This alignment process results in a temporary adjustment to the published monthly profiles, which will unwind in the dataset reported in the bulletin published in the following month, which is then de-coupled from the UK government debt and deficit for Eurostat statistical bulletin to reflect the latest available data.

In this example, the derived estimate to July may revise substantially to reflect the latest monthly path. This phenomenon is discussed further in the Public Sector Finances revision policy.

Validation and quality assurance

Accuracy

The degree of closeness between an estimate and the true value.

In publishing monthly estimates, it is necessary that a range of different types of data sources are used. A summary of the different sources used and the implications this has for data revisions is provided in the document Sources summary and their timing.

The Public Sector Finances Revision Policy provides information of when users of the statistics published in the public sector finances and UK government debt and deficit for Eurostats statistical bulletins should expect to see methodological and data-related revisions.

More detail of the methodology and sources employed can be found in the Public Sector Finances Methodological Guide.

The PSF/EDP data is assessed by the magnitude of revisions to data made after their initial release. The results of revisions analysis are regularly presented in the appendix G to the Public Sector Finance (PSF) statistical bulletin and revisions spreadsheets, containing the data underlying these analyses, are made available on our website.

The PSF has an open revision policy which facilitates the provision of up-to-date estimates for all periods. All estimates are provisional when first published.

As time passes the data are revised and become more accurate and reliable.

The following methodology is applied to PSF statistics compiled on an ESA95 basis. Three months beyond the relevant period, the overall errors and omissions in estimates for the entire public sector of the National Accounts, as well as each sub-sector, will usually be less than 0.1% of annual gross domestic product (GDP) (that is, less than £1 billion) for each quarter, calendar year and financial year.

Revisions analysis, based on rolling 60-month series of published data, indicates that the average revision between first estimate and one year later (without regard to a positive or negative sign) for the inclusive measures of public sector net debt and public sector net borrowing have not been statistically significantly different from zero over a prolonged period.

With the move to ESA10 there will not be a rolling 60-month series of published data from which to analyse revisions. We are currently investigating future short-term and long-term revisions methodology based on a similar statistical principle.

Classification decisions applied retrospectively or large events affecting the public sector finances are described and the impact included in the PSF publication. This allows users to assess the impact of changes in the data sets beyond data revisions.

We are continually examining methodological changes with a view to improving the accuracy of information provided in the statistical bulletins. However, most sources for public expenditure and income are administrative and are not, therefore, subject to sampling error.

Central government accuracy

Central government departmental expenditure data are subject to various validation processes and improve over time. They potentially can go through 4 main stages:

  • Stage 1
  • Initially, they are estimated using in-year reported data.
  • Data for the (current at the time of publication) financial year ending March 2017 (April 2016 to March 2017) are at stage 1.
  • Stage 2
  • In the July following the completion of the financial year, departments update their full financial year estimates (but with no in-year profile), for publication in the Treasury’s Public Spending Statistics annual publication; these estimates will be in line with the audited resource accounts for most departments.
  • Data for the financial year ending March 2016 (April 2015 to March 2016) are at stage 2.
  • Stage 3
  • For the Autumn update of the Treasury’s Public Spending Statistics these financial year estimates are updated.
  • No data are currently at stage 3.
  • Stage 4
  • In March the following year the winter update of the Treasury’s Public Spending Statistics is published and the financial year estimates are further improved; all departments’ and devolved administrations’ accounts will have been audited and finalised by this stage; these revisions are not normally included in the public sector finances statistical bulletin until the September release.
  • Data up to and including the financial year ending March 2015 (April 2014 to March 2015) are at stage 4.

Local government accuracy

At the time of publication (February 2017); local government data for the financial years ending up to and including the financial year ending March 2014 are based on final outturns for receipts and expenditure.

Data for the financial years ending March 2015 (April 2014 to March 2015) and March 2016 (April 2015 to March 2016) are mainly based on final outturns (provisional outturns have been used for Scotland).

Estimates for (current) financial year ending March 2017 (April 2016 to March 2017) are based on a combination of in-year returns and forecast data. These are subject to revision when more outturn data become available.

Coherence and comparability

Coherence is the degrees to which data that are derived from different sources or methods, but refer to the same topic, are similar. Comparability is the degree to which data can be compared over time and domain for example, geographic level.

EU Council Directive 2011/85/EU (part of the enhanced EU economic governance package regulations known as the "6 pack") includes statistical requirements for government finance statistics relating to the monthly publication of statistics and annual publication of specific contingent liabilities and other potential liabilities.

Tables PSA6C and PSA6H were introduced into the PSF bulletin in 2014 in order to fully comply with the monthly government finance statistics requirements.

On 22 December 2014, we published the required information on government contingent liabilities and other potential liabilities for the first time. The latest update to these figures was published on 22 December 2015, alongside an article, with a further update on 21 December 2016, setting out the wider background to different debt measures used in the UK.

The PSF open revisions policy ensures consistent time series are produced.

The PSF statistical bulletin differs from other National Accounts publications as it reflects a more flexible approach to revising data. The aim is to incorporate the most up-to-date information for all time periods and revisions can be included for any time periods. As a consequence, data presented in the PSF bulletin may sometimes be inconsistent with published GDP data. Typically this results from the inclusion of revised data in the PSF statistical bulletin that are not incorporated into GDP estimates until a later date, in accordance with National Accounts’ more restrictive revisions policy.

When Blue Book revisions policy allows for significant historical periods to be revised, an alignment process is undertaken to ensure that quarterly data presented in the PSF statistical bulletin, and quarterly National Accounts estimates published for institutional sectors or sub-sectors (such as central government and local government) are consistent and coherent. More information can be found in the Public Sector Finances revision policy.

General government net borrowing and gross consolidated debt reported in this bulletin are calculated following the rules of the European System of Accounts 2010 (ESA 2010) and are the same in definition as the general government debt and deficit monitored under the Maastricht Treaty.

When calculating debt as a percentage of GDP in the bulletin on UK government debt and deficit for Eurostat, the general government gross debt at the end of the year is divided by the GDP for the previous 12 months. This methodology is adopted to be consistent with Eurostat publications which report on Maastricht debt for all EU countries.

However, when calculating public sector net debt as a percentage of GDP in the UK public sector finances, the debt figure is divided by an annual GDP figure which is centred on the month to which the debt relates. To be consistent, the general government gross debt as a percentage of GDP in the public sector finances is calculated using the same centred GDP figure. More information can be found in an article on The use of GDP in public sector fiscal ratio statistics.

Tax receipts data published in this bulletin are presented in terms of broad tax categories (for example, Income Tax, VAT). For more detail on individual taxes users can go to the HM Revenue and Customs website and access a monthly publication which provides cash tax receipts data which are entirely consistent with the data published in Table PSA7 in the Public Sector Finances Tables 1 to 10: Appendix A dataset.

Local government banking data are received from both the Bank of England (BoE) and the Department for Communities and Local Government. The Local Authorities provide estimates and the BoE confirm actual receipts. In the event of discrepancies, the Bank of England data are regarded as the definitive source until the data can be reconciled.

When methodological changes are introduced, every effort is made to ensure that all previous data are amended to make a directly comparable time series. Structural changes in the economy, such as privatisation and nationalisation, which lead to reclassifications inevitably lead to occasional step changes. The effects of incorporating data for Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking group, following their classification to the public sector, are a case in point.

PSF statistics are compiled in accordance with ESA10, as required by EU regulations. Public sector entities’ accounts are usually subject to audit by the National Audit Office or other auditors. At any time, there are no conflicting duplicate series published within PSF, so for any time period, only one set of figures is available.

Concepts and definitions

(Concepts and definitions describe the legislation governing the output, and a description of the classifications used in the output.)

Under EU regulation, the data sets are compiled in accordance with the standards set out ESA. In addition, PSF are based on the National Accounts framework and the National Accounts that are also compiled in accordance with the ESA standards. From September 2014, the PSF and EDP publications will move from ESA95 to ESA10.

Information on the impact of this change can be found at:

Further European guidance on the application of the ESA10 framework to government finance statistics are detailed in the Manual on Government Deficit and Debt 2010. These 2 documents provide the methodological and conceptual framework on which the PSF and Government Deficit and Debt Maastricht statistical bulletins are based. Where necessary, guidance can also be found in the international SNA08 on which the ESA10 framework is based.

Although PSF are compiled on the bases of the National Accounts framework, some of the measures used in the bulletin are UK specific measures which have been defined by the UK government for the purposes of fiscal policy.

The methods, classification and terminology used in PSF are detailed in the following publications:

Definitions

A methodology guide to monthly public sector finance statistics is available on our website. It explains the concepts and measurement of the monthly data, plus those previously published, and gives some long runs of historical data. The following background notes provide further information regarding the monthly data.

The table below is intended to provide you with the important terms needed to understand this release.

Terms to help you understand this release

Term Description
Accruals/accrued recording Financial recording based on when ownership transfers or the service is provided (sometimes different to when cash is paid)
Asset Purchase Facility Fund (APF) An arm of the Bank of England able to purchase financial assets including government securities (gilts). The APF has earned interest which is periodically transferred back to central government
Cash recording Financial recording based on when cash is paid or received. Net cash requirement is recorded on a cash basis and net debt is close to being a cash measure
Current budget deficit The gap between current expenditure and current receipts (having taken account of depreciation)
Current expenditure Spending on government activities including: social benefits, interest payments, and other government department spending (excluding spending on capital assets)
Current receipts Income mainly from taxes (for example, VAT, Income and Corporation Taxes) but also includes interest, dividend and rent income
ESA 1995 European System of Accounts 1995 was the European legal requirement for the production of national accounts prior to September 2014
ESA 2010 European System of Accounts 2010 is the European legal requirement for the production of national accounts from September 2014
Maastricht deficit General government net borrowing as defined within the Maastricht Treaty and Stability and Growth Pact (and as supplied to Eurostat)
Maastricht debt General government gross debt as defined within the Maastricht Treaty and Stability and Growth Pact (and as supplied to Eurostat)
Net borrowing Measures the gap between revenue raised (current receipts) and total spending (current expenditure plus net investment). A positive value indicates borrowing while a negative value indicates a surplus
Net cash requirement A measure of how much cash the government needs to borrow (or lend) to balance its accounts (see cash recording)
Net debt A measure of how much the government owes at a point in time
Net investment Spending on capital assets, for example, infrastructure projects, property and IT  equipment, both as grants and by public sector bodies themselves minus capital receipts (sale of capital assets)

Other information

Output quality trade-offs

Trade-offs are the extent to which different dimensions of quality are balanced against each other.

Timeliness is a critical requirement of the main Public Sector Finance (PSF) or Government deficit and debt Maastricht users. Not all of the administrative data are available to meet the tight monthly deadlines. For example, central government data are timelier than local government and public corporations data because the supplier has earlier access to their source data. In order to meet the user requirement for timely data, forecast data are used short-term where actual data are not yet available. This trade-off is considered reasonable because estimates of net borrowing and net debt are mainly driven by central government.

Each quarter the PSF component data are aligned with the published gross domestic product (GDP) data to provide more robust breakdowns.

Assessment of user needs and perceptions

The processes for finding out about uses and users, and their views on the statistical products.

As previously stated, some of the key users of PSF and Government deficit and debt Maastricht data are UK government organisations, such as the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) and the Bank of England and international bodies, such as Eurostat and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). ONS and HM Treasury are in regular dialogue with these users via a range of different UK and international working groups.

Recently, the Public Sector Finance team has sought to broaden its engagement by reaching new users through social media. Social media provides a tool for communicating with interested users on a monthly basis when users are most interested in the statistics.

Users were asked for their views during the 2013 to 2014 PSF Review which focused on the presentation and methodology used to compile the public sector finances data sets. A user event is planned for September 2014 to further understand user needs. This will also help to develop the existing Public Sector Finance User Engagement Strategy.

Sources for further information or advice

Accessibility and clarity

Accessibility is the ease with which users are able to access the data, also reflecting the format in which the data are available and the availability of supporting information. Clarity refers to the quality and sufficiency of the release details, illustrations and accompanying advice.

The Public Sector Finance (PSF) and Government deficit and debt Maastricht statistical bulletins are available to download, without charge, from the National Statistics publication hub from 9:30am on the date of publication.

The opening pages of the PSF bulletin provide a summary of the headline measures followed by a section titled “Understanding this release” that is designed to help users make the links between the various headline statistics contained within the bulletin. Tables show figures for the latest month and year to date, together with data for the corresponding month and year to date for the previous year. Graphs put the latest data in context by showing the progression of the actual data against forecasts produced by OBR.

The Government deficit and debt Maastricht bulletin provides data on the deficit and debt for the most recent years on both a financial year and calendar year basis. Charts on the front page show how the UK data compare to the reference levels for deficit and debt detailed in a protocol to the Maastricht Treaty.

Advance notice of any major forthcoming changes in methodology, or any special factors which should be taken into accounts when interpreting the data, are announced within the statistical bulletins.

Our recommended format for accessible content is a combination of HTML web pages for narrative, charts and graphs, with data being provided in usable formats such as CSV and Excel. Our website also offers users the option to download the narrative in PDF format. In some instances other software may be used, or may be available on request. Available formats for content published on our website but not produced by the ONS, or referenced on our website but stored elsewhere, may vary. For further information please refer to the contact details at the beginning of this document.

There is more information regarding conditions of access to data in:

  • terms and conditions (for data on the website)
  • accessibility

In addition to this Quality and Methodology Information, basic quality information relevant to each release is available in the background notes of the relevant statistical bulletin.

Publication policy

A brief paper explaining the roles and responsibilities of ONS and HM Treasury when producing and publishing the public sector finances statistical release is on our website.

A note on the main uses and users of the public sector finances statistics is available on our website.

Recommendations for the improvement of the public sector finances statistical bulletin may be emailed to public.sector.accounts@ons.gsi.gov.uk.

National Statistics are produced to high professional standards and released according to the arrangements approved by the UK Statistics Authority compliant with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. They undergo regular quality assurance reviews to ensure that they meet customer needs. They are produced free from any political interference.

Special arrangements apply to the public sector finances, which is produced jointly with HM Treasury. A list of ministers and officials with pre-publication access to the contents of this bulletin is available on request. In addition, some members of the Treasury’s Fiscal Statistics and Policy (FSP) team will have access to them at all stages, because they are involved in the compilation or quality assurance of data. Some members of the Treasury’s communications team will also see the bulletin, but only within the 24 hour pre-release period, because they place these data on the website.

Public sector finance data series previously published in Financial Statistics are made available for download on the public sector finance datasets page.

Tables 1.2A, 1.3A and 1.4A which are updated monthly will continue to be available monthly, published concurrently with the PSF Supplementary data, while Tables 1.3B, 1.3C and 1.3D will be available quarterly.

Useful links

The following articles aim to help users gain a better understanding of public sector finances statistics: