1. Main points

  • These estimates are experimental, using a degree of estimation to deliver timelier estimates compared with our annual public service productivity figures; these are published with a 2-year lag, the methodology used in these estimates is explained in New nowcasting methods for more timely quarterly estimates of UK total public service productivity.

  • In Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2017, productivity for total public services increased by 0.3% relative to the previous quarter; this followed on from a 0.1% decrease in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2016.

  • Comparing with the same quarter in the previous year, Quarter 1 2017 saw an increase in productivity of 0.7%.

  • In 2016, year-on-year productivity for total public services has increased by 0.4%, as year-on-year output growth of 0.8% exceeded input growth of 0.4%, leading to an increase in the ratio of output to inputs.

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2. Things you need to know about this release

Productivity of public services is estimated by comparing growth in total output with growth in total inputs used. Productivity will increase when more output is being produced for each unit of input. Estimates of output, inputs and productivity are given both as growth rates between consecutive periods and as indices that show the cumulative trend over time.

Estimated growth rates of output and inputs for individual public services are aggregated by their relative share of total expenditure on public services (expenditure weight) to produce estimates of total public service output, inputs and productivity.

Inputs are composed of expenditure on labour, goods and services, and of consumption of fixed capital. They are adjusted for inflation using a suitable price index (deflator). Expenditure data used to estimate inputs growth are taken from the Quarterly National Accounts (QNA). Alternatively, volume measures are used where available, such as full-time equivalent for labour input.

The QNA also provides estimates of government output based on direct measures where they are available and indirect measures where they are not. Direct measures of output use the number of activities performed and services delivered, which are weighted together using the relative cost of delivery. Indirect measures of service output assume that the volume of output is equal to the volume of inputs used to create them. This is referred to as the “Output=Inputs” convention and means productivity growth will always be zero where indirect measures are used.

This release presents experimental estimates for quarterly total public service productivity, inputs and output, providing a short-term timely indicator of the future path for the annual estimates of total public service productivity, which are produced with a 2-year lag.

Trends in quarterly total public service output, inputs and productivity estimates are mostly determined by those service areas where quarterly data are readily available, for example, healthcare. A large proportion of activity data used to estimate the volume of output are annual data. This has subsequently been converted to a quarterly series – split among the 4 quarters – reducing the impact these components have on volatility.

Annual estimates for 2015 and 2016 are taken from annualised quarterly data and are comparable to the existing annual series over the period 1997 to 2014. Differences between the annual and quarterly experimental public service productivity estimates are a result of differences in the estimates of output and inputs. Further information on these differences can be found in New nowcasting methods for more timely quarterly estimates of UK total public service productivity.

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3. Quarterly public service productivity rises as growth in output outstrips growth in inputs

In Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2017, total public service productivity increased by 0.3% relative to the previous quarter. This was a return to quarterly growth, following a slight contraction of 0.1% in the final quarter of 2016, and continued a general upwards trend seen in recent years. As a result of this, productivity was 0.7% higher than in Quarter 1 2015.

Placing this in the context of a longer time series, Figure 1 combines the latest experimental quarterly estimates – covering Quarter 1 2015 to Quarter 1 2017 – with annual estimates for between 1997 and 2014, taken from our Public service productivity estimates: total public service, UK: 2014 release. It suggests that, despite volatility in the quarterly path, the productivity of UK public services has been on an upwards trend for much of the last 6 years. Between 2010 and 2016, total public service productivity is estimated to have increased by 3.0% – around 0.5% growth per year. This represents the longest sustained period of growth in public service productivity since the start of the series in 1997.

Figure 2 breaks down the productivity estimate into the underlying changes in inputs and output of total public services.

It shows that both total public service inputs and output increased in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2017, with the latest rise in quarterly productivity driven by growth in output of 0.7%, exceeding growth in inputs of 0.4%. This meant that there was an increase in the ratio of output to inputs, leading to an increase in productivity.

Figure 2 also illustrates the longer-term trend, showing the change in both components since 1997, with growth up to 2014 taken from the existing annual series and growth rates after this taken from the quarterly experimental series. While inputs have continued to increase for much of the last 6 years, growth in output has been larger and therefore driven a rise in productivity. Taking each series from 2010 to 2016, inputs have grown by 2.3% (0.4% per annum) while output has risen by 5.4% – equivalent to 0.9% per annum.

Further information on data sources for quarterly total public service productivity can be found in the Quality and Methodology Information report and in New nowcasting methods for more timely quarterly estimates of UK total public service productivity. These articles highlight methods and caveats for producing the quarterly growth estimates and they should be referenced when reporting on specific quarterly movements. This is especially the case for the latest quarters, which are more liable to be subject to revisions.

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4. What’s changed in this release?

All estimates, by definition, are subject to statistical “error”, but in this context the word refers to the uncertainty inherent in any process or calculation that uses sampling, estimation or modelling. Most revisions reflect either the adoption of new statistical techniques, or the incorporation of new information, which allows the statistical error of previous estimates to be reduced. Public service productivity estimates operate an open revisions policy. This means that new data or methods can be incorporated at any time and will be implemented for the entire time series.

Compared with the latest release, published on 5 April 2017, a number of minor revisions have been incorporated to the quarterly experimental series, including:

  • further improvement made to the price indices used to deflate intermediate consumption

  • minor revisions to some price deflators

  • minor revisions to the direct measures of labour input

These changes mean that productivity and its subsequent components – inputs and output – have experienced either minor or no revisions from previous estimates.

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5. Future developments

This article presents updated experimental quarterly total public service productivity, inputs and output series, aiming to provide a timelier indicator of the likely trend in the existing annual series. These estimates are based on different sources from those used to estimate annual total public service productivity. The sources used here contain less detail and necessarily involve a greater degree of estimation than annual estimates produced later. As a result, they are not replacements for the annual estimates, and are merely intended to provide a timelier estimate for the more recent period. We aim to assess the impact of these differences and to address issues such as quality adjustment, direct measures, the treatment of annual data and service level breakdown in future work.

Feedback on the use of these estimates and suggestions for improvements will be essential for the future development of timely estimates for public service productivity. All feedback is welcome and can be sent to fred.foxton@ons.gsi.gov.uk.

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6. Authors

Piotr Pawelek, Fred Foxton and Sam Turnock.

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7. Quality and methodology

The Quarterly public service productivity estimates: Total public services Quality and Methodology Information document contains important information on:

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

  • users and uses of the data

  • how the output was created

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

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