ICAEW chart of the week: Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office

11 September: The UK’s highly regarded diplomatic service in the FCO was combined last week with the UK’s highly respected international development department DfID to form a new government department – the FCDO.

Chart on net expenditure 2019-20 FCDO £2,750m + DfID £10,350m = £13,100m.

The newly established Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) is the subject of the #icaewchartoftheweek, illustrating the amounts spent by its predecessor departments in the financial year ended 31 March 2020. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) incurred net expenditure in the order of £2,750m, while the Department for International Development (DfID) spent £10,350m, a combined total of £13.1bn.

Although DfID was the bigger department in financial terms, the FCO was larger operationally with 13,751 staff in 2019-20 (5,263 in the UK and 8,488 abroad) compared with the 3,535 employed by DfID (2,628 in the UK and 773 abroad). As a consequence, net operational spending amounted to somewhere in the region of £1,250m for the FCO, while DfID cost in the order of £350m to run.

The FCO spent approximately £700m in 2019-20 on international programmes, including grants to the British Council and the BBC World Service amongst others. The other big element of its spending of just under £800m was on conflict prevention, stability and peacekeeping.

DfID spent around £2,150m on international development programmes and organisations, policy, research and evidence and humanitarian aid and £750m on conflict, security and stabilisation. Around £3,000m was spent on economic development, while £4,100m went to regional programmes, including approximately £900m in west and southern Africa, £1,300m in east and central Africa, £850m in the Middle East and north Africa and £1,050m in Asia and elsewhere in the world.

DfID has provisionally calculated that total development spending across the UK Government, including by the FCO, DfID, Home Office, Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs departments, amounted £15.2bn in total in the 2019 calendar year. This was in line with the UK Government’s legally binding commitment to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income on development. This includes a proportion of the EU’s spending on international development but excludes the UK’s contributions towards development within the EU, in particular in eastern European member states.

The coronavirus pandemic has reduced the size of the economy this year and hence the 0.7% calculation will result in a smaller amount to spend in 2020-21, hence the combined budget for the FCDO will be smaller than the amount spent in the last financial year.

The new department is abbreviated to FCDO in writing, which the Government is insisting should be spoken out loud as ‘focado’ (similar to the online grocery store), no doubt in a valiant attempt to prevent other forms of short-form pronunciations becoming popular.

This chart was originally published on the ICAEW website.

ICAEW chart of the month: Cricket – England v West Indies 3rd Test

31 July: Summer is the time for a special edition of the #icaewchartofthemonth, celebrating the victory of the English men’s cricket team over the West Indies in the 3rd Test at Old Trafford, resulting in a 2-1 series win for England.

Chart: England 1st innings 369 + 2nd innings 226 = 595. West Indies 1st innings 197 + 2nd innings 129 = 269 short of target.

Many explanations of cricket as a sport tend to focus on the intricacies of how it is played but in practice, the aim is pretty simple – one team sets a target by scoring as many runs as they can and the other team then tries to beat that target. Of course, like most sports, the joy is often as much in the skills of the players and the tactics deployed as much as who wins or loses, but the principal objective remains the same: score more runs than the other team.

West Indies no doubt regretted putting England into bat first, as England proceeded to score 369 runs in the first innings, significantly better than the 197 the West Indies team achieved in reply. England then extended their total by adding 226 runs before declaring, giving the West Indies a stretching target of 398 to tie or 399 to win. A strong England bowling performance meant West Indies only achieved 129 by the time they were bowled out mid-afternoon on the fifth day, falling short of the overall target of 595 runs by 269.

Stuart Broad had a stand-out match, scoring 62 runs in England’s first innings and taking 6 and 4 wickets respectively in the West Indies’ two innings – including the 500th wicket of his international test career. Chris Woakes, who took 5 of the West Indies’ wickets in their second innings, was the other key English bowler, while Rory Burns (scoring 147 runs across two innings), Ollie Pope (91) and Joe Root (85) were the highest scoring English batsmen. More details are in the scorecard.

Cricket can be a mystery to many, with unique features such as whole days abandoned to rain – as the fourth day of this test match was. Some have even likened cricket to a ritualised rain-dance, helping to make England the green and pleasant land that it is. For others, cricket is a different sort of mystery, providing sporting magic that makes an English summer complete.

The #icaewchartofthemonth and #icaewchartoftheweek will be off for August before returning on Friday 4 September. We hope that you will be able to take some time off to enjoy the summer, wherever and however that may be possible.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: PFI contracts past their peak

12 June 2020: PFI contract payments have started to decline following a peak of £10.2bn in 2019-20.

The #icaewchartoftheweek is on private finance initiative (PFI) contracts, illustrating how payments on the UK’s portfolio of over 700 ongoing PFI and PFI2 contracts reached a peak of £10.2bn in the financial year ended 31 March 2020.

Total payments are expected to fall over the years to come as contracts start to come to the end of their (in most cases) 25 to 30-year terms, with the majority scheduled to expire between 2025 and 2050.

The tailing off of payments reflects the lack of new PFI deals to replace expiring contracts since 2010, when PFI2 was introduced without much success and the announcement in 2018 that PFI was over. News is still awaited on whether a new model for public-private partnerships will be adopted to replace PFI, following on from the Infrastructure Finance Review.

In the meantime, the remaining 704 ongoing contracts still need to be managed, including ensuring assets are handed back to public sector in good condition. This will be a big challenge for public bodies, with the National Audit Office recommending that preparations start seven years in advance of the end of each PFI contract.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: EU spending plans 2021-27

5 June 2020: European Commission proposes €2tn in spending over the next seven years, including a major stimulus package – as illustrated by the #icaewchartoftheweek.

Last week the European Commission submitted its formal proposal for the EU’s multiannual financial framework for 2021 through 2027. This is the outline budget that sets out the EU’s medium-term financial priorities and forms the starting point for each year’s budget.

The proposals include an annual budget for financial commitments of €167bn in 2021, rising to €192bn in 2027 – a total of €1,241bn including inflation or €1,100bn in 2018 prices. There is also a one-off €809bn (€750bn in 2018 prices) proposal for a ‘Next Generation’ economic recovery plan in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, to be funded initially by borrowing.

Although the outline budget of €167bn for 2021 is smaller than the €173bn amended commitments budget for the current financial year, it is actually a significant increase once the departure of the UK is taken into account – at least assuming the UK-EU transition period is not extended for a further one or two years.

The largest area of spending is on regional and social development (‘cohesion and values’ in EU jargon), including programmes such as the European Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund and Erasmus.

This is followed by agriculture and environment, the majority of which relates to agricultural subsidies and rural development as well as environmental and climate action programmes.

Science, digital and single market includes spending on research and development (including Horizon), the European space programme, Connecting Europe (transport, energy and digitally), Digital Europe, and the operation of the single market.

Security and migration bring together ‘migration and border management’ with ‘resilience, security and defence’, while External includes the cost of development programmes (principally in neighbouring countries), humanitarian aid, and pre-accession assistance for candidate countries that have applied to join the EU.

Spending on institutions mainly comprises the administrative costs of the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament, together with other agencies, European Schools, and pensions.

These numbers are for spending commitments, being the maximum amounts that can be authorised in any one year. In practice, commitments can cover several years and the expenditures actually occurred in each year are typically a lower amount – for example, in 2020 budget expenditures are €155bn (including spending from previous year’s commitments), less than the €173bn commitment budget.

These numbers may seem pretty large, but with a population of 448 million, the spending proposals are equivalent to an average of just over €30 a month per person over the seven years, together with a one-off stimulus package costing a further €21 a month per person if spread over the same period.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: Money for nothing

22 May 2020: The UK Government is being paid to borrow money, with first negative yield gilt

Cash invested £1,026.35 (nominal value £1,000, premium and interest £26.35). Cash returned £1,026.25 (7 coupon payments £26.25, principal repayment £1,000). Net return -£0.10, yield -0.003%.

The news this week that the UK Government issued debt with a negative interest rate is the subject of the #icaewchartoftheweek. This shows how purchasers of the 0¾% Treasury Gilt 2023 at an auction on Wednesday 20 May accepted a negative yield of -0.003% on their investment.

At an average price of £102.388 for each £100 gilt or £1,023.88 for ten gilts, someone buying gilts at the auction would have paid £1,026.35 to the Government for each £1,000 of nominal value purchased, once £2.47 for interest already accrued payable with the bid is included. 

That investor will receive less money back, with 7 semi-annual coupon payments of £3.75 before repayment of the principal of £1,000 on 22 July 2023 adding up to £1,026.25, a net loss of 10p.

This is a return of just under -0.01% over 38 months on the £1,026.35 invested, equivalent to an annualised yield of -0.003%.

This is only just negative, and the UK Government still needs to pay to borrow for longer periods, with yields on 10-year and 30-year gilts still in positive territory at around +0.24% and +0.63% respectively.

Although this gilt auction is a milestone, being the first fixed-rate government bond with a duration over two years to be issued at a negative yield in the UK, this is not a new phenomenon in the world of government borrowing. For example, with 10-year and 30-year government bonds currently yielding -0.49% and -0.07% respectively, Germany’s €156bn of projected borrowing this year should end up reducing its interest bill!

Whether this presages a similar situation in the UK is unknowable, so we are not yet at the stage of money for nothing.

This chart of the week was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: UK electricity usage

24 April 2020: A dramatic decline in electricity usage confirms the scale of the economic downturn and the impact that will have on tax receipts.

Chart showing 7-day moving average electricity usage between 1 Feb and Apr 22 falling below the 5-year average.

The coronavirus pandemic is having a huge impact on all of us, including in our usage of electricity as illustrated by the #icaewchartofthemonth.

For example, the seven-day moving average electricity generated as of 21 April 2020 was 531 GWh, 23% lower than the 690 GWh supplied on average in the previous five years. This is a dramatic fall, reflecting the closure of much of our high streets, most offices and many factories across the country.

Admittedly, some of the decline will be down to weather, with April in particular being much warmer than usual. However, the collapse in demand since the Great Lockdown began is dramatic, demonstrating just how much has changed in just a few weeks.

A silver lining to the current situation is a significant reduction in carbon emissions, with zero electricity generated from coal or oil power plants in recent weeks. Gas-fired power stations are currently providing only around 20% of UK energy supply, with wind, solar and hydropower together providing in the order of 50% each day. Nuclear provides a further fifth, with the balance coming from biomass (around 5% or so) and imports from France, Belgium and Netherlands (a further 5%, much of which is either from nuclear power plants or from renewable sources in any case). This is very positive news for the environment, even if a bit of a headache for the National Grid electricity system operator in managing a very different mix of generation than normal.

Unfortunately, we will have to wait quite a while to see how this translates into economic statistics, with the OBR amongst others suggesting that the economy could contract by as much as 35% in the second quarter of 2020. This will have major implications for tax receipts and government borrowing, which are rapidly moving in opposite directions.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: deficit and debt

17 April 2020: The #icaewchartoftheweek is on the ‘coronavirus reference scenario’ put together by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).

Fiscal deficit 2020-21: £55bn Budget 2020 + £130bn lower receipts +£88bn higher spending = £273bn. Net debt: £1,819bn Budget 2020 +£384bn more borrowing = £2,203bn.

It suggests that the deficit for the current fiscal year could end up somewhere in the region of £273bn, around five times as much as the official Spring Budget forecast of £55bn, while public sector net debt could exceed £2.2tn by 31 March 2021, £384bn more than previously expected.
 
This scenario, which the OBR stresses is not a forecast, is based on a three-month lockdown followed by restrictions for a further three months, resulting in a 35% contraction in the economy in the second quarter of 2020, before bouncing back relatively quickly to leave the economy 13% smaller in 2020 than in 2019.
 
Once the crisis has passed and policy interventions have unwound, the OBR thinks that annual borrowing could return to roughly the Spring Budget 2020 forecast. However, net debt would continue to be much higher, potentially £260bn (10% of GDP) more than the baseline forecast by 31 March 2025.
 
This is only of one many potential scenarios, but what is clear is that whatever actually happens, the damage to the public finances from the coronavirus pandemic will be extremely severe.
 
We can (and will) worry about the bill later, when the need for a long-term fiscal strategy to put the public finances onto a sustainable path will be more important than ever before.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: retail sales

3 April 2020: the #icaewchartoftheweek is on the subject of retail sales, with UK supermarkets experiencing a 20.5% growth in sales in the four weeks ending on Saturday 21 March 2020 according to Nielsen.

Supermarket sales: £9.2bn 4 weeks to 23 Mar 2019 + £1.2bn 3 more shopping trips +£0.7bn 1 more item per basked = £11.2bn 4 weeks to 21 Mar 2020.

This is dramatic for the sector, with sales in the last week in that period up 43% over the equivalent week last year.

Although newspaper headlines are full of stories about panic buying, the statistics themselves provide a more nuanced perspective. Shoppers each made an additional three visits to supermarkets over the four-week period at the same time as adding an extra item to each basket (up from 10 to 11 items on average), with the average spend per basket increasing from £15 to £16.

Although some of those extra £1s will have gone on stocking up on toilet rolls and pasta, in practice the majority of this additional spending will have simply replaced food and drink previously bought elsewhere, as pubs, restaurants, works canteens and school lunches have all ceased to operate over the course of the last few weeks.

A boom time for supermarkets, but terrible for most of the rest of the retail sector.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: a trillion dollar deficit

Chart: A trillion dollar deficit. Revenue $3.6tn, Spending $4.6tn.

The #ICAEWchartoftheweek this week is on the US federal government budget. This is forecast by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to end the current financial year this month at just under a trillion dollars in deficit, with the budget shortfall in the year ended 30 September 2020 projected to exceed a trillion dollars for the first time.

Revenue in 2020 is expected to amount to $3,620bn. The largest contributions are from federal income taxes of $1,800bn and payroll taxes of $1,281bn, followed by a modest $245bn from corporate taxes and $294bn in other revenues.

This is projected to be $1,008bn less than planned spending by the federal government in 2020 of $4,628bn. Social security is expected to cost $1,097bn, while spending on Medicare, Medicaid and other health programmes are expected to cost $1,163bn net of receipts. Income security (welfare) programmes are expected to cost $302bn, while the balance of mandatory expenditure includes spending on military veterans and federal civilian and military retirement plans.

Discretionary spending of $1,400bn comprises $737bn on defense and $663bn on everything else apart from interest. This includes elementary and secondary education, housing assistance, international affairs, and the administration of justice, as well as outlays for highways and other programmes. Net interest is expected to cost $390bn.

The shortfall in revenues compared with spending will be funded by borrowing, with federal external debt expected to increase from $16.7tn to $17.8tn at the end of September 2020.

Federal revenues and spending are estimated to amount to 16.4% and 21.0% of GDP respectively in 2020, with the deficit equivalent to 4.6% of GDP. The CBO projects that the average federal deficit between 2020 to 2029 will be 4.7% of GDP, significantly higher than the 2.9% average over the last fifty years, resulting in federal debt growing from 79% of GDP in 2019 to 95% of GDP over the coming decade.

Of course, the federal budget does not give the full picture for the public finances in the US, with most state governments choosing (or being legally required) to run budget surpluses.

As with many developed economies, the public finances in the US are under increasing pressure with an increasingly long-lived population driving higher costs for social security, health and social care. With lower levels of economic growth (albeit currently much higher than in the UK or Europe) and a growing level of debt, there are concerns about the resilience of the US public finances if there were to be an economic downturn or another financial crisis in the medium term.

As summer turns into fall, it may be that a turn in economic seasons is on the way too. After all, winter is coming.

The full Congressional Budget Office report is available on cbo.gov.

ICAEW chart of the week: A rush of capital spending in March

Our #ICAEWchartoftheweek this time is on the subject of public sector net investment. This is the government’s preferred measure of capital spending, including much needed investment in the UK’s economic and social infrastructure.

Over the years, the process for delivering capital expenditure in the public sector in the UK has had a pretty bad reputation. 

The anecdote goes that the first quarter is spent arguing about budgets, in the second everyone goes on holiday, and it is only in the third quarter that programmes finally get up and running, before everything stops for the Christmas break. The final quarter is then a mad rush to spend the remaining budget before the end of the financial year.

Unfortunately, there does appear to be some support for this conjecture when we take a look at the actual numbers.

According to the provisional financial results for the year released last week, around 41% of public sector net investment in 2018-19 was incurred in the last quarter. £8.2bn or 19% was reported in the last month alone!

Brexit has been an added complication in this particular financial year, with the government’s no-deal preparations in the run up to the end of March involving additional capital spending. Despite this, March was the peak month last year, as it has been over the years.

This is a stubbornly consistent feature of the public finances in the UK, even after numerous attempts within government to improve capital budgeting and delivery processes. For example, departments are now able to carry over some of their capital budgets to future years, which in theory should reduce the incentive to spend every last penny of their allocation in-year. In practice, a great deal of activity seems to take place in March, while April and May appear to be much quieter.

Of course, it is possible that our concerns about the quality of government’s investment delivery process are not fully justified. There could after all be some very good reasons as to why the winter months are the best time for carrying out public capital works!