ICAEW chart of the week: Pre-Spending Review departmental spending

The chart this week looks at the core departmental resource budgets that are central to next Wednesday’s long-awaited Spending Review.

The Spending Review and Autumn Budget on Wednesday 27 October will see the Chancellor set out departmental budgets for the next three financial years from 1 April 2022. The #icaewchartoftheweek shows the core departmental resource budgets for the current financial year, excluding COVID-19 related spending, capital investment, and annually managed expenditure such as the state pension and welfare provision.

With budget settlements for health, schools and defence already pencilled in, there may be a need for cuts in some departments if the Chancellor is to be able to free up cash to direct it where it is most needed. 

The Chancellor has already announced that the spending envelope will increase core departmental resource budgets of £385bn as shown in the chart to £408bn in 2022-23, £422bn in 2023-24 and £441bn in 2024-25. 

This might be seen as implying generous budget increases are on offer, but £18bn of the £23bn increase in the coming financial year has already been allocated to the Department for Health & Social Care (DHSC). This reflects £13bn of additional funding from the recently announced health and social care levy in addition to already planned increases in health spending, taking the DHSC budget to £164.8bn in 2022-23, rising to £171.4bn and £175.9bn in the following two years.

A further £2bn has been allocated to English schools next year (taking it from £49.8bn to £52.2bn within the Education’s overall £70.8bn budget) while the Ministry of Defence’s current budget of £31.6bn is expected to receive a flat budget settlement in 2022-23 before rising in subsequent years. With just under a billion in consequential increases to the devolved administrations under the Barnett formula, that leaves a mere £2bn available for non-schools education and all the other departments. 

With local government and departments such as Justice under severe financial pressure, the implication is that some departments may receive cuts in their core budgets to free up extra cash for those more in need.

Other departmental budgets of £70.5bn in 2021-22 include the Home Office £13.7bn, Local Government £8.5bn, Justice £8.4bn, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) £7.4bn, the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) £5.7bn, HMRC £4.9bn, the Department for Transport (DfT) £4.7bn, the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) £4.2bn, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) £2.6bn, the Single Intelligence Account (SIA) £2.2bn, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC) and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sports £1.7bn. This is followed by a series of smaller departments such as the Cabinet Office £0.7bn, Law Officers £0.7bn, the Department for International Trade (DIT) £0.5bn and HM Treasury £0.3bn as well as non-ministerial departments and other public bodies.

The chart does not include capital budgets, which are expected to rise from £99.8bn in the current year to £107.3bn, £109.1bn and £112.8bn in 2022-23, 2023-24 and 2024-25 respectively. Here, the Chancellor has greater room for manoeuvre and it would not be surprising for the Budget Statement next month to focus on capital investment programmes across the country rather than the more challenging budget settlements for current expenditure that most departments are likely to receive.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

Government borrowing exceeds £100bn in first half of financial year

Upward revisions to GDP bring the debt-to-GDP ratio down to 95.5%, but the Chancellor has a difficult Spending Review and Autumn Budget ahead as spending pressures mount.

The public sector finances for September 2021 released on Thursday 21 October reported a monthly deficit of £21.8bn – better than the £28.7bn reported for September 2020 but still much higher than the deficit of £8.1bn reported for September 2019. 

This brings the cumulative deficit for the first half of the financial year to £108.1bn compared with £209.3bn last year and £35.3bn two years ago.

Public sector net debt increased from £2,205.4bn at the end of August to £2,218.9bn or 95.5% of GDP at the end of September. This is £83.1bn higher than at the start of the financial year and an increase of £425.8bn over March 2020.

As in previous months this financial year, the deficit came in below the official forecast for 2021-22 prepared by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) in March 2021, when the outlook appeared less positive. The OBR is expected to significantly reduce its projected deficit of £234bn for the full year when it updates its forecasts for the Autumn Budget and Spending Review on 27 October 2021. 

Cumulative receipts in the first six months of the 2021-22 financial year amounted to £419.1bn, £57.4bn or 16% higher than a year previously, but only £15.2bn or 4% above the level seen a year before in 2019-20. At the same time cumulative expenditure excluding interest of £468.9bn was £41.2bn or 8% lower than the first six months of 2020-21, but £79.6bn or 20% higher than the same period two years ago.

Interest amounted to £33.5bn in the six months to September 2021, £10.4bn or 45% higher than the same period in 2020-21, principally because of higher inflation affecting index-linked gilts. Despite debt being 24% higher than two years ago, interest costs were only £3.7bn or 12% more than the equivalent six months ended 30 September 2019.

Cumulative net public sector investment in the six months to September 2021 was £24.8bn. This was £13.0bn less than the £37.8bn in the first half last year, which includes over £16bn for bad debts on coronavirus lending that are not expected to be recovered. Investment was £7.1bn or 40% more than two years ago, principally reflecting a higher level of capital expenditure.

Debt increased by £83.1bn since the start of the financial year, £25.0bn less than the deficit. This reflects cash inflows from delayed tax receipts and the repayment of coronavirus loans more than offsetting other borrowing to fund student loans and business lending.

Alison Ring, ICAEW Public Sector Director, said: “Upward revisions by the ONS to GDP brought the ratio of public debt to GDP down to 95.5% at the end of September, which is good news for the Chancellor as he gets ready for a potentially difficult Autumn Budget and Spending Review. September’s numbers continue to track below what now appear to be over-prudent forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility back in March, and the OBR will likely improve its projections for the Spending Review period when it reports next week.

“However, at £108.1bn the deficit for the first half of the financial year to September 2021 is almost twice the deficit recorded for the last full financial year before the pandemic, and the Chancellor is a long way from getting the public finances back under control. Difficult decisions await Rishi Sunak in the Spending Review given rising debt-interest costs and existing commitments on health, schools and defence will limit the capacity he has available to address significant spending pressures in many public services.”

Image of table with public sector finances for the six months to 30 September together with variances against prior year and two years ago.

For a readable version, please click the link at the bottom of this email to go the original ICAEW published version.

Caution is needed with respect to the numbers published by the ONS, which are expected to be repeatedly revised as estimates are refined and gaps in the underlying data are filled.

The ONS made a number of revisions to prior month and prior year fiscal numbers to reflect revisions to estimates. These had the effect of reducing the reported fiscal deficit for the five months to August 2021 from £93.8bn to £86.3bn and the deficit for the year ended 31 March 2021 from £325.1bn to £319.9bn.

Image of table with public sector finances by month to 30 September 2021.

For a readable version, please click the link at the bottom of this email to go the original ICAEW published version.

This article was originally published by ICAEW.

IFS pre-Budget report warns of difficult choices for the Chancellor

The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that there may be spending cuts in some areas of the Spending Review and Autumn Budget, while the health and social care levy will not be enough to meet spending pressures on the NHS and social care in the medium-term.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has launched its annual Green Budget report, setting out its views on the prospects for the economy and the public finances ahead of the Spending Review and Autumn Budget scheduled for 27 October 2021.

Produced in conjunction with Citi and the Nuffield Foundation, the 427-page report contains detailed chapters on the global and UK economy, the economic and fiscal outlook, the Spending Review, fiscal rules, NHS spending, local government funding in England, tax policies to achieve net zero, and employment and the end of the furlough scheme.

A summary of the key findings in each chapter is set out below, but the key headlines are that COVID has damaged the economy, the fiscal outlook is better than predicted in March but still much worse than pre-pandemic forecasts, and the Chancellor has some very difficult spending choices to make in the Spending Review. 

The IFS cautions that the new health and social care levy will not be sufficient to meet medium-term cost pressures and that ‘unprotected budgets’ continue to be under severe strain, with cuts possible if the Chancellor wants to meet his proposed new fiscal rules.

More detailed analysis goes into spending by the NHS and local government and the implications of net zero for tax policy. A final chapter highlights the mismatch between those losing their jobs and vacancies in a very different employment market following the end of the furlough scheme.

Alison Ring, Director for Public Sector and Taxation at ICAEW, commented: “As ever, the IFS have produced one of the most authoritative analyses of the state of the UK public finances, setting out many of the difficult choices facing the Chancellor in the Spending Review and Autumn Budget.

“The challenge for the Chancellor will be how to address severe spending pressures across central and local government and deliver on ‘levelling up’ and ‘net zero’, at the same time as repairing the public balance sheet and charting a path towards sustainable public finances.”

IFS Green Budget 2021: key points

Citi says the global economy is recovering:

  • Pandemic is not over, but economies are resilient and rebound can become a recovery
  • Supply constraints will restrict growth and higher inflation is likely for some time
  • Risk of fiscal tightening is low and central banks likely to be cautious in exiting monetary support

Citi expects UK economy to be 2.5% smaller in 2024-25 than pre-pandemic forecasts:

  • UK in an imbalanced recovery with fading growth in the winter
  • Profound economic adjustment looms (e.g. less hospitality, more transport and storage). 
  • Brexit leading to supply disruptions and a drop in exports
  • Labour market in process of adjustment, but despite shortage sectors, real-terms pay settlements overall remain broadly in line with pre-pandemic range 
  • Inflation increasing sharply – should be temporary, but there is risk of a wage price spiral
  • Monetary policy constrained, so fiscal capacity needed to stabilise the economy.

IFS says economic and fiscal outlook is better than predicted in March, but still much worse than pre-pandemic forecasts:

  • Deficit in 2021-22 to be £180bn, over £50bn below OBR Spring Budget forecast
  • At 7.7% of GDP deficit remains extraordinarily high – the third highest deficit since WWII
  • Recovery should see current budget be in surplus by 2023-24
  • Upside scenario would see overall deficit eliminated
  • But further lockdowns could see borrowing more than double pre-pandemic forecasts in 2024-25
  • Central scenario would see public debt start to fall, but only gradually
  • Higher interest rates and inflation have increased debt interest costs to around £15bn a year more than expected in March
  • Health and social care levy will need to increase from 1.25% to 3.15% by end of the decade to meet expected health and social care pressures

Fiscal rules are needed, but:

  • Well-designed fiscal rules can help make it harder to borrow for ‘bad reasons’
  • UK has had poorly designed fiscal targets, with 11 new rules in the last seven years – most of which have been missed before being dropped
  • Both Conservatives and Labour appear to favour a current budget fiscal rule
  • Strong case for gilt-issuance to be tilted towards more long-dated index-linked gilts to lock in the current low real cost of more debt
  • Reducing debt should be a long-term target to create more fiscal space for potential future adverse shocks
  • Health, social care and state pensions likely to add 6.1% of national income to costs by 2050
  • Net zero costs likely to peak in 2026-27 at 2.2% of national income
  • IMF says UK has lowest general government net worth of 24 advanced economies
  • A broader focus on wider public balance sheet by government and opposition is welcome
  • Fiscal rules should be seen as rules of thumb and no fiscal target is sacrosanct 

Spending Review 2021:

  • Chancellor faces unpalatable set of spending choices, despite manifesto-breaking tax rise
  • Spending envelope is £3bn a year smaller than pre-pandemic plans, which is a problem when 64% of departmental spending is already protected or otherwise committed
  • Potential cuts in unprotected budgets such as local government, prisons, further education and courts of £2bn in 2022-23
  • More spending room in 2024-25, so potential for Chancellor to re-profile spend to avoid cuts next year with spending more overall
  • NHS and other demands likely to eat into amounts available for unprotected budgets.
  • COVID-19 reserve needed to cover non-NHS virus-related spending
  • Now is time to return to certainty of multi-year budgeting
  • Extending public sector pay freeze risks damaging recruitment, retention and motivation

Pressures on the NHS:

  • NHS already showing signs of strain before pandemic began, with last decade seeing lowest level of spending growth in NHS history
  • NHS entered pandemic with 39,000 nursing vacancies and many fewer doctors, hospital beds and CT scanners per person than in many similar countries
  • NHS funding plans blown out of water by pandemic, with extra £63bn spent in 2020-21 and £34bn in 2021-22
  • Extra funding needed in the next three years of £9bn, £6bn and £5bn – substantial, but manageable, sums. Covered by new health and social levy initial for first two years
  • New funding unlikely to be sufficient in the medium term, with extra money needed from 2024-25 onwards
  • Missed treatments, bringing down waiting lists, demand for mental health services and higher pay all likely to add to spending pressures
  • Some savings from moving to remote outpatient appointments and potential for more from other innovations in the pandemic

Local government funding in England:

  • English councils’ non-education spending almost a quarter lower than 2009-10. 
  • This contrasts with Welsh councils, where spending has fallen by only a tenth
  • £10.4bn in additional funding in 2020-21 covered most in-year COVID-19 pressures
  • But mismatches mean some councils are ‘over-compensated’ while district councils are ‘under-compensated’
  • COVID-19 funding in 2021-22 of £3.8bn expected to be £0.7bn short of what is needed
  • Central government funding currently implies council tax rises of 3.6% a year assuming no further impact on budgets from COVID beyond next April
  • Uncertainties mean that setting firm plans for council funding for the next three years is an impossible task without guarantees from central government
  • Social care funding still allocated based on local populations in 2013 and the delayed ‘Fair Funding Review’ needs to be completed
  • For example, Tower Hamlets’ population is up 21%, Blackpool’s is down 2%.
  • Transition to new system of funding may need extra money to avoid potentially large cuts in some areas
  • Council tax needs reform!
  • More devolution on the agenda – government should develop ‘devolution packages’ rather than have bespoke arrangements for each area
  • Additional £5bn of health and social care levy funding for adult social care is unlikely to be sufficient – an extra £5bn a year could be needed by the second half of the 2020s

Tax policies to achieve net zero:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions fell 38% between 1990 and 2018, the fastest in the G7
  • Emission reductions will have to accelerate from 1.4% a year to 3.1% a year to meet net zero in 2050
  • Many low-cost opportunities to reduce emissions already done, so further reductions will be more difficult
  • Tax rates on emissions vary wildly, so incentives to reduce emissions are highly uneven
  • Renewables attract subsidies paid for by higher electricity prices – may pay-off in long-term but there are risks
  • Carbon footprint higher for higher-income households, but costs take up a bigger share of poorer household budgets
  • Weak incentives to improve energy efficiency
  • International collaboration needed, eg on taxing international aviation

Employment and the end of the furlough scheme:

  • Furlough scheme ended in September at gross cost of £70bn
  • Huge success, but significant challenges remain in the labour market
  • Significant concerns about the employment prospects for the 1.6m on furlough in July
  • Vacancies exceed 1.0m, but mismatch between regions and industries
  • London appears hard-hit on multiple fronts
  • Young people leaving full-time education last year were less likely to get jobs, but employment rates have since fallen back into line with pre-pandemic cohorts

Visit the IFS website to find out more about the IFS Green Budget and to download a copy.

This article was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: UK public debt profile

Our chart this week shines a spotlight on the UK’s public debt, focusing on the Government’s debt strategy ahead of the fast approaching Spending Review.

A big worry for the Chancellor of the Exchequer in putting together the Budget and Spending Review this month is the possibility that higher inflation and interest rate rises will hit the public finances, restricting the amounts he has available to meet his policy objectives. Our chart this week illustrates just how exposed the UK’s public debt is to changes in inflation and interest rates.

UK public debt profile - column chart

UK public sector net debt before QE: Index-linked £470bn + Variable-rate £490bn + Fixed-rate £1,580bn - Cash and liquid assets £340bn = £2,200bn

Quantitative easing: £980bn (£735bn overlaps with fixed-rate and £245bn overlaps with variable-rate.

UK public sector net debt after QE: Index-linked £470bn + Variable-rate £1,225bn + Fixed-rate £845bn - Cash and liquid assets £340bn = £2,200bn

Sources: Office for National Statistics, Debt Management Office, ICAEW calculations and estimates.

UK public sector net debt was marginally over £2.2tn at the end of August 2021, comprising in the order of £2,540bn in gross debt less £340bn in cash and liquid assets. As ICAEW’s chart of the week illustrates using approximate numbers, this can be broadly divided into fixed-rate, variable-rate and index-linked debt, reflecting the Government’s debt strategy as executed by the UK Debt Management Office and by National Savings & Investments.

What the chart highlights is how quantitative easing (QE) has changed the profile of UK public debt significantly. This tool has been used by the operationally independent Bank of England to ease monetary policy by pumping money into the economy in response to the financial crisis a decade ago and the coronavirus pandemic more recently, but has the effect of switching fixed-rate government securities into variable-rate central bank deposits, contributing to falling interest costs even as public sector net debt has risen from less than £0.5tn in 2007 before the financial crisis to £1.8tn in March 2020 before the pandemic and £2.2tn currently.

Fixed-rate debt of £1,580bn comprises approximately £1,490bn in government bonds or gilts repayable over periods generally ranging from five to 30 years, together with £75bn in other central and local government loans net of intra-government holdings (which we have assumed are mostly fixed-rate in nature) and up to £15bn in fixed-rate savings certificates sold to individual investors by National Savings & Investment.

Variable-rate debt of £490bn comprises around £185bn of variable-rate National Savings & Investments deposits and certificates, £60bn in short-term Treasury bills, and £245bn in Bank of England liabilities relating to QE (see below). The balance of £470bn is in the form of index-linked gilts, where the amounts owed increase in line with the retail prices index (RPI).

This is before deducting £340bn in cash and liquid assets, comprising around £150bn of official reserves (much of which is currency deposits with foreign central banks) and £115bn, £40bn and £35bn in bank, building society and other liquid financial asset holdings held by central government, local government and other parts of the public sector respectively.

In practice, the sterling work of the UK Debt Management Office (DMO) to create a balanced portfolio of public debt has been upended by the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, albeit with the agreement of successive Chancellors. The spread of inflation-, variable- and fixed-rate exposure combined with extended maturities to manage refinancing requirements over longer periods has been offset by £980bn of QE purchases and lending that has replaced £735bn (or around half) of the fixed-rate gilts in issue at nominal value with central bank deposits that pay interest at the Bank of England base rate – reducing the net fixed rate exposure to £845bn. This is in addition to the QE-related liabilities of £245bn already included in variable-rate debt, of which £110bn was used to finance Term Funding Scheme low-cost business loans, £20bn to fund corporate bond purchases, and £115bn to finance premiums on gilt purchases (in effect prepaying some of the interest that would have gone to external investors over time if the gilts had not been purchased by the Bank of England).

The consequence is a public debt portfolio that is currently being financed much more cheaply than anyone ever expected, but which is much more sensitive to changes in inflation and interest rates than was ever planned.

With inflation now expected to rise to in the order of 5% (or even higher) over the next few months, and suggestions that the Bank of England may start to increase the base rate in early 2022, the gains the public finances have experienced from ultra-low borrowing costs look as if they will start to go into reverse. This is likely to put additional pressure onto the public finances at a time of elevated economic uncertainty, making for even tougher choices for the Chancellor on both tax and spending in the Spending Review and Autumn Budget in a couple of weeks’ time.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

Use Spending Review to establish a “financial platform for delivery”

Alison Ring, Director for Public Sector at ICAEW, has written to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury ahead of Spending Review 2021 expressing ICAEW’s view that it should be centred on the three key themes of stable funding, fiscal resilience and financial capability.

The first multi-year Spending Review since 2015 offers the government the opportunity to establish a “firm financial platform” to enable the delivery of its key priorities, including recovering from the pandemic and achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, according to the ICAEW Public Sector team.

Alison Ring, Director for Public Sector at ICAEW, has written a letter on behalf of the public sector team to the Rt Hon Simon Clarke MP, the newly appointed Chief Secretary to the Treasury, ahead of the Autumn Spending Review 2021, scheduled to conclude on 27 October.

As set out in the letter, ICAEW’s Public Sector team believes the Spending Review should be guided by three key principles:

  • Stable funding: The Spending Review must provide the certainty that allows bodies across the public sector to plan and invest. The letter argues for the rationalisation of local government funding streams and setting capital budgets over a longer time period.
  • Fiscal resilience: The government needs to establish a strategy for repairing the public balance sheet following the pandemic and ensure the government has the capacity to withstand future fiscal emergencies. It highlights the urgent need to strengthen local authority balance sheets as the costs of not doing so may be even greater.
  • Financial capability: The letter points to recent NAO reports and high profile failures in local government as evidence of the importance of the government using the Spending Review to invest in financial management skills, financial processes, financial reporting and audit.

ICAEW members will be central to ensuring the government can deliver on its priorities. Alison Ring, Director for Public Sector at ICAEW, therefore concludes the letter by offering the Chief Secretary to the Treasury an opportunity to discuss the letter and how ICAEW and its members can support the government in tackling the challenges that the country faces as it recovers from the pandemic. 

Alison Ring commented: “The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly weakened the public finances, which hampers the government’s ability to deliver its priorities and respond to future crises. The upcoming Spending Review gives the government the opportunity to establish a long-term strategy for repairing the public balance sheet and providing the financial capability and certainty public sector bodies need to deliver essential priorities such as the transition to net zero carbon by 2050.”

Read the Public Sector team Representation to the Spending Review

See more commentary from ICAEW on the Autumn Budget and Spending Review.

This article was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: UK public sector employment

Our chart this week is on public sector employment, the cost of which is one of the largest components of the Spending Review in a few weeks’ time.

Chart showing UK public sector employment between June 2001 and June 2021.

See text below for description of trends.

One of the key drivers for any budget or business plan is the number of full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) and it is no different in the public sector, where staff costs in the order of £150bn constitute just under 40% of departmental resource budgets of £385bn in 2021-22 (excluding depreciation and COVID-related spending).

The chart illustrates how public sector employment has grown, fallen and grown again over the last 20 years. It starts with the largest employer in the country – the NHS – where the workforce has increased from 1,025,000 FTEs in June 2001 to 1,626,000 FTEs in 2021. This 59% increase in staffing is substantially greater than the 14% increase in the size of the UK population from 59m to 67m over the same period, reflecting how the combination of more people living longer but less healthy lives and more successful treatments for cancer (for example) have resulted in substantially more for the NHS and its workforce to do.

Education FTEs are up 16% from 997,000 twenty years ago to 1,113,000 this year, is more in line with the growth in the size of the population, although most of the increase happened before the financial crisis, with FTEs working in education still below the peak of 1,210,000 in March 2012.

Public administration is down from 20 years ago, with 966,000 FTEs in June 2021 compared with 998,000 two decades previously. FTEs increased to a peak of 1,081,000 in June 2005 before falling gradually to 1,010,000 in June 2010, followed by more significant falls following the financial crisis. Most of the net fall represents fewer public servants in local government since the financial crisis , with civil servants in central government only slightly below where they were 20 years ago at 465,000 FTEs in June 2021 compared with 492,000 in June 2001. The total would have been much lower but for a post-Brexit surge in the size of the civil service, which has grown by 20% from its nadir of 384,000 FTEs in June 2016.

Police and armed forces FTEs have fallen from 436,000 in June 2001 to 417,000 in June 2021, mainly due to a steady decline in the armed forces from 219,000 to 159,000 FTEs over that period. Police numbers (including civilian support staff) increased from 222,000 FTEs 20 years ago to a peak of 284,000 in September 2009, fell to 235,000 FTEs in December 2016, and then started to increase again over the course of the last two years to reach 258,000.

Other public sector workers, including community health and social workers and employees of public corporations such as the BBC, Channel 4, Crossrail and Ordnance Survey have fallen from 973,000 to 655,000 FTEs, having reached a peak of 1,322,000 in March 2008 following the nationalisation of a number of banks. Most of the fall since then is a consequence of transfers to the public sector, including housing associations, Royal Mail, Direct Line, Lloyds Banking Group and Northern Rock.

Overall, public sector employment grew from 4,429,000 FTEs in June 2001 to a peak of 5,292,000 FTEs in December 2009 before falling to 4,777,000 FTEs in June 2021, comprising net changes of +601,000 in the NHS, +116,000 in Education, -32,000 in public administration, -19,000 in the police and armed forces and -318,000 in other public sector employees.

Of course, staff numbers are only part of the equation as the 4,777,000 FTEs currently employed have to be multiplied by an average salary of around £34,000 a year to reach the more than £160bn estimate for total staff costs across the public sector. This is the average of total pay – the median full-time salary is lower than this at somewhere in the region of £26,000.

Pay is one of the key drivers, with a pay freeze for many public sector workers announced last year helping to constrain the growth in the wage bill. With the cost of living on the march upwards, it seems unlikely that the Chancellor will be able to justify as strict a pay freeze this year, although he will still be looking to constrain wage settlements as much as possible. Wage settlements in the private sector are also likely to be higher this year, another worry for the Treasury given the £230bn or so the public sector spends every year on external procurement.

The recent upward trend in public sector employment is a big challenge for the Spending Review, particularly the continual growth in NHS staff as more people live longer lives, in addition to commitments to recruit more police officers and to improve other public services. Higher wage settlements in both the public and private sectors could significantly affect the number of people the government can afford to employ to meet its policy objectives.

ICAEW chart of the week: capital investment before the Spending Review

Given that capital budgets are often the first to be cut when money is tight, will the planned growth in capital investment survive the Spending Review later this month?

Capital investment before the spending review

Departmental capital budgets from 
2019-20 through 2025-26: £70bn, £92bn, £100bn, £107bn, £109bn, £113bn, £117bn

Local and other capital budgets: £14bn, £10bn, £7bn, £7bn, £11bn, £10bn, £10bn.

Sources: HM Treasury and Office for Budget Responsibility, Spring Budget 2021. Excludes covid and student loans.

Our chart this week is on public sector capital investment, illustrating how central department capital budgets increased from £70bn two years ago to £92bn last year and £100bn this year, with further increases planned up to £117bn in 2025-26. This path was originally set by former Chancellor Philip Hammond who believed boosting capital investment, particularly on infrastructure, would help address the productivity gap that has constrained economic growth over the last decade. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has broadly adopted the same approach of increasing capital budgets in the first half of the 2020s, but with the rather snappier objective of ‘levelling up’ opportunity across the country.

Local and other capital budgets in the public sector are actually significantly higher than those shown in the chart (£14bn, £10bn, £7bn, £7bn, £11bn, £10bn and £10bn in 2019-20 through 2025-26), but that is primarily because a substantial proportion of both local government and public corporation capital investment is funded through central government capital grants, which are already included within departmental capital budgets. The balance, funded by local taxation and non-tax revenues, has actually fallen in the last few years, especially as many local authorities have tightened their belts as social care and other costs have outstripped council tax receipts.

The Treasury announced last month that the envelope for the Spending Review would adopt the capital spending profile already set out in the Spring Budget in March as shown in our chart, with core capital department expenditure limits (Core CDEL) of £107bn in 2022-23, £109bn in 2023-24 and £113bn in 2024-25. It seems likely that the government will stick ahead with these capital plans, unlike the profile for departmental current spending (Core resource department expenditure limits or Core RDEL, not shown in the chart) which increased by £15bn, 12bn and £14bn respectively to £408bn in 2022-23, £422bn in 2023-24 and £441bn in 2024-25 to address the increasing demands being placed on health care as more people live longer and to address the social care crisis. 

While this extra current spending is to be funded by the new health and social care levy, there remain huge pressures on many other public services as well as concerns about the risks to tax receipts from an uncertain economic recovery. The temptation to raid capital budgets to top up current spending, as occurred in the years following the financial crisis, will be there. After all, the benefits of capital investment can often take many years to arrive, while the stresses experienced by public services are much more immediate. In addition, under government fiscal rules, capital expenditure counts towards reported expenditure (total managed expenditure or TME) and the public sector deficit, which perhaps makes it more difficult to treat investment for the long-term differently from day-to-day operating expenditure. 

Assuming the Chancellor sticks to the plan, then the big story of the Spending Review from a capital expenditure perspective will be in the allocation between departments. Transport (£18bn in 2021-22), Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (£16bn) and Defence & Intelligence (£15bn) are the largest spenders, and each will be fighting hard for more money, especially Defence where governmental ambitions to be a ‘tier 1’ military power have always outstripped the amount of money supplied. Other departments likely to be seeking additional capital funding include the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on behalf of local authorities in England (£9bn in 2021-22) and the devolved administrations (together £9bn).

Will the Chancellor be able to steer a course through what appear to be some turbulent economic waters to deliver on the government’s infrastructure ambitions?

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: German federal budget 2022

As Germany heads to the polls this weekend to elect a new federal parliament, the topic of the public finances has moved to centre stage. Our chart this week looks at the federal budget for 2022 and the current plan to sharply reduce the deficit from 2023 onwards.

German federal budget 2022

2021: revenue €307bn + borrowing €240bn = expenditure €488bn + investment €59bn

2022: revenue €343bn + borrowing €100bn = expenditure €391bn + investment €52bn

2023: revenue €398bn + borrowing €5bn = expenditure €352bn + investment €51bn

2024: revenue €396bn + borrowing €12bn = expenditure €357bn + investment €51bn

2025: revenue €396bn + borrowing €12bn = expenditure €357bn + investment €51bn

Source: Bundesministerium der Finanzen: 'Draft 2022 federal budget and fiscal plan to 2025'

The coronavirus pandemic has been accompanied by relaxations in both European and German constitutional limitations on the size of the federal deficit for 2020, 2021 and 2022, with Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Union parties (the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) together with Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU)) and Finance Minister and chancellor-candidate Olaf Scholtz of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) setting out a plan earlier this year to reduce federal borrowing significantly by 2023.

As the #icaewchartoftheweek illustrates, the plan is to continue to run a sizeable deficit of €100bn in 2022 with tax and other revenue of €343bn being offset by €391bn in expenditure and €52bn in investment spending. This is a smaller deficit than the €240bn forecast for the current year (revenue €307bn – expenditure €488bn – investment €59bn) and the €131bn recorded in 2020 (not shown in the chart: revenue €311bn – expenditure €392bn – investment €50bn), both of which contained significant amounts of emergency spending in response to the pandemic. 

The hope is that revenues will recover in 2023 to €398bn at the same time as expenditures and investment return to pre-pandemic levels of €352bn and €51bn respectively to leave only a €5bn shortfall to be covered by borrowing. The forecast deficit for both 2024 and 2025 is €12bn, comprising revenue of €396bn in both years, less expenditure of just under €396bn in 2024 and just over €396bn in 2025 and investment in both years of €51bn. It is important to note that this is the budget for the federal government only and excludes the share of joint taxes going to Germany’s states (Länder) as well as expenditures funded from state and local taxation.

The challenge for the three principal candidates for the chancellorship: Olaf Scholtz of the SPD, Armin Laschet of the Union parties and Annalena Baerbock of the Green party, is in how to make promises to spend more on their respective priorities while maintaining the low levels of borrowing required by the constitution outside of fiscal emergencies. 

Major flooding earlier this year has put climate change at the top of the electoral agenda, with the need to increase investment to achieve net zero a key theme of party platforms. Together with promises to invest more in infrastructure and the need to cover the cost of more people living longer, higher defence spending and other financial commitments, there are significant questions about whether the path to near-budget balance can be achieved. Given the economic uncertainty, the prospect of returning to the pre-pandemic policy of paying down government debt seems unlikely, although that policy helped reduce general government debt from a peak of 82% of GDP in 2010 following the financial crisis. Despite the additional borrowing because of the pandemic, general government debt is still below that level at somewhere in the region of 75% of GDP – putting Germany in a much better fiscal position than many of its European neighbours, including the UK.

One candidate to be the next finance minister is Christian Lindner of the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), a possible partner in either a ‘traffic-light coalition’ of SPD (red), Greens (green) and FDP (yellow) or a ‘Jamaica coalition’ of the Union parties (black), Greens (green) and FDP (yellow) although this will of course depend on how the parties perform in the election on Sunday 26 September. Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla, joint leaders of the hard-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), and Janine Wissler & Dietmar Bartch, joint leaders of the Left Party (Die Linke), are considered unlikely to find their way into the federal cabinet in most scenarios.

Unlike in the UK, where a new prime minister customarily takes up residence in 10 Downing Street the next day, there is unlikely to be an instant change in national leadership. Chancellor Angela Merkel and most of her existing Union/SPD ‘Grand coalition’ cabinet are likely to stay in caretaker positions for several weeks or potentially months as fresh coalition negotiations between the parties elected to the Bundestag are concluded.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

Bad debts hit public finances as last year’s deficit is revised up to £325bn

Manifesto-breaching tax rise does not mean the end of the financial challenges facing the Chancellor in the run up to the Autumn Budget and three-year Spending Review on 27 October.

The public sector finances for August 2021 released on Tuesday 21 September reported a monthly deficit of £20.5bn, better than the £26.0bn reported for August 2020 but still much higher than the deficit of £5.2bn reported for August 2019. This brings the cumulative deficit for the first five months of the financial year to £93.8bn compared with £182.7bn last year and £27.2bn two years ago.

The Office for National Statistics revised the reported deficit for the year ended 31 March 2021 up by £27.1bn from £298.0bn to £325.1bn, principally as a consequence of recognising an estimated £21bn in bad debts on coronavirus loans to businesses.

Public sector net debt increased from £2,201.5bn at the end of July to £2,202.9bn or 97.6% of GDP at the end of August. This is £67.1bn higher than at the start of the financial year and a £416.8bn increase over March 2020.

As in previous months this financial year, the deficit came in below the official forecast for 2021-22 prepared by the Office for Budget Responsibility, which is likely to reduce its projected deficit of £234bn for the full year when it updates its forecasts for the Autumn Budget and Spending Review on 27 October. 

Cumulative receipts in the first five months of the 2021-22 financial year amounted to £347.1bn, £48.4bn or 16% higher than a year previously, but only £12.4bn or 4% above the level seen a year before in 2019-20. At the same time cumulative expenditure excluding interest of £391.8bn was £39.9bn or 9% lower than the first five months of 2020-21, but £69.2bn or 21% higher than the same period two years ago.

Interest amounted to £30.8bn in the five months to August 2021, £10.7bn or 53% higher than the same period in 2020-21. This was principally because of the effect of higher inflation on index linked gilts. Despite the much higher levels of debt than two years ago, interest costs were only £3.8bn or 14% higher than the equivalent five months ended 31 August 2019.

Cumulative net public sector investment in the five months to August 2021 was £18.3bn, including £0.6bn in estimated bad debts on coronavirus lending in the current financial year. This was £11.3bn less than last year’s £29.6bn for the five months to August 2020, which included £15.6bn for coronavirus lending that is not expected to be recovered. Investment was £6.0bn or 49% more than two years ago, principally reflecting a higher level of capital expenditure.

Debt increased by £67.1bn since the start of the financial year, £26.7bn less than the deficit as tax receipts deferred last year were collected and coronavirus loans were repaid.

Alison Ring, ICAEW Public Sector Director, said: “Today’s numbers from the ONS illustrate the significant financial challenges facing the Chancellor as he puts together next month’s Budget and three-year Spending Review while public sector net debt hovers at almost 100% of GDP. The additional billion pounds a month the Chancellor expects to generate from the new tax and social care levy from next April needs to be seen in the context of the £20.5bn shortfall in the public finances recorded in the past month alone.

“Meanwhile, the belated recognition of £21bn in bad debts from coronavirus lending is a reminder of the scale of support the government has provided to keep the economy going during the pandemic. The risk for the next few months is that higher-than-expected inflation, shortages on shelves and disruptions in gas and energy markets may push the post-pandemic economic recovery off course and require further interventions, making the challenge of repairing the public finances even greater than it already is.”

Image of table showing public sector finances for the five months to 31 August 2021 and variances against prior year and two years ago.

Click on link at end of post to go to the ICAEW website for a readable version of this table.

Caution is needed with respect to the numbers published by the ONS, which are expected to be repeatedly revised as estimates are refined and gaps in the underlying data are filled.

The ONS made a number of revisions to prior month and prior year fiscal numbers to reflect revisions to estimates. These had the effect of reducing the reported fiscal deficit for April 2021 from £26.0bn to £25.8bn, for May 2021 from £20.2bn to £19.8bn, for June 2021 from £21.4bn to £20.7bn and for July 2021 from £10.4bn to £7.0bn. The deficit for the twelve months ended 31 March 2021 was revised up from £298.0bn to £325.1bn.

Image of table showing summary public sector finances for each of the five months to 31 August 2021.

Click on link at end of post to go to the ICAEW website for a readable version of this table.

This article was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: School-age demographic change

This week’s chart illustrates how the number of 10 year-olds in the UK is expected to fall sharply over the rest of the decade, just as the number of 18 year-olds is expected to peak in 2030.

School-age children

10 year-olds

2022: 855,000
2023: 831,000
2024: 813,000 
2025: 807,000
2026: 808,000
2027: 783,000
2028: 759,000
2029: 730,000
2030: 702,000

18 year-olds

2022: 741,000 
2023: 752,000
2024: 781,000
2025: 797,000
2026: 824,000
2027: 817,000
2028: 826,000
2029: 841,000
2030: 855,000

The Office for National Statistics UK Population Estimate for July 2020 reports that there were 855,000 children in the cohort who will be 10 years old next year when most of them will be entering their final year of primary school. A falling birth rate since 2012 means that the numbers of 10-year-olds will fall by 18% over the following eight years to 702,000 in 2030, with a consequent drop in the number of primary school places that will be needed in the coming decade: 

  • 2022: 855,000 10 year-olds
  • 2023: 831,000
  • 2024: 813,000 
  • 2025: 807,000
  • 2026: 808,000
  • 2027: 783,000
  • 2028: 759,000
  • 2029: 730,000
  • 2030: 702,000

At the same time, the number of 18 year-olds will grow significantly reaching a peak in 2030 when that cohort of 855,000 will be 18, 15% more than the 741,000 of 18 year-olds in 2022. 

  • 2022: 741,000 18 year-olds 
  • 2023: 752,000
  • 2024: 781,000
  • 2025: 797,000
  • 2026: 824,000
  • 2027: 817,000
  • 2028: 826,000
  • 2029: 841,000
  • 2030: 855,000

The chart was prepared using the numbers of children estimated to be in the UK in 2020 adjusted for time growing up, but without adjustment for migration or the (fortunately) relatively small number of deaths that would be expected to occur over the course of the decade. 

Prior to Brexit and the pandemic, there was a net inflow of around 5,000 a year adding to each age group which, if repeated, would have the effect of reducing the rate of decline in 10 year-olds and increasing the size of the peak in 18 year-olds in 2030. However, with migration potentially having gone into reverse during the pandemic, it is unclear whether net immigration will be as high as it was before.

Either way, one of the first orders of business for new Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi will be to review the plans to reduce primary school and expand secondary school provision over the next few years, as well as addressing the pressure there will be on universities, colleges and apprenticeships as the bulge of births in the mid-noughties flows through the education system over the coming decade.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.