ICAEW chart of the week: dismal times (per capita)

Two quarters of shallow negative GDP growth may be just enough for the UK to be in a mere ‘technical’ recession, but seven successive quarters of negative GDP growth per capita present a more worrying picture.

Dismal times (per capita)
ICAEW chart of the week

Step chart for the eight calendar quarters in 2022 and 2023 together with the total change over that period.

Change in GDP per capita

(Quarterly increases in green, quarterly decreases in orange, total decrease in purple)
2022 Q1: +0.2%
2022 Q2: -0.2%
2022 Q3: -0.2%
2022 Q4: -0.0%
2023 Q1: -0.1%
2023 Q2: -0.2%
2023 Q3: -0.4%
2024 Q4: -0.6%
Total: -1.5%

15 Feb 2024.
Chart by Martin Wheatcroft FCA. Design by Sunday.
Source: ONS, 'Quarterly GDP per head: chained volume measures, Oct-Dec 2023'.

(c) ICAEW 2024

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) released its latest statistics on quarterly GDP on 15 February 2024, reporting that GDP in the fourth quarter of 2023 (October to December) had fallen by 0.3% compared with the previous quarter, which in turn was 0.1% below the quarter before that. This was sufficient for the UK to meet one of widely accepted definitions of a recession: two successive quarters of economic contraction. 

Many economists have chosen to describe this as a ‘technical’ recession given how shallow the fall in growth has been over the past two quarters, very different from the scale of contraction seen in ‘proper’ recessions such as that experienced during the financial crisis (when GDP fell in the order of 6% over four successive quarters). The ‘technical’ label also emphasises how relatively small subsequent revisions to the quarterly statistics could easily lift the UK out of recession again.

Perhaps more worrying for all of us living in the UK are how changes in GDP per capita have been negative over the past seven quarters, as illustrated by our chart this week. GDP per person can often be more important to individuals than the overall change in GDP given how living standards are, by definition, experienced on a per capita basis.

According to the official chained volume measure of GDP per head, economic activity per capita grew by 0.2% in the first quarter of 2022 (over the previous quarter) but has declined since then: by -0.2%, -0.2% and -0.0% respectively in the second, third and fourth quarters of 2022, and then -0.1%, -0.2%, -0.4% and -0.6% in the first, second, third and fourth quarters of 2023.

Overall, this is equivalent to a reduction of 1.5% in GDP per head between the fourth quarter of 2021 and the fourth quarter of 2023, although one additional note of caution is that the per capita numbers are based on population projections that are even more susceptible to revision than estimates of the size of the economy. Despite that, these numbers are not a sign of an economy doing well.

The per capita numbers put the reported GDP growth rates for the same eight quarters of +0.5%, +0.1%, -0.1%, +0.1%, +0.2%, +0.0%, -0.1%, and -0.3% respectively (equivalent to cumulative GDP growth of +0.4% between 2021 Q4 and 2023 Q4), into perspective, highlighting just how weak the performance of the UK economy has been over the past two years.

Just as the recession is being described as ‘technical’, there are good arguments for describing positive growth in GDP as also ‘technical’ when per capita growth is negative at the same time, reflecting how much stronger economic growth needs to be for living standards to improve.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: IMF World Economic Outlook Update

My chart for ICAEW this week illustrates how countries rank in the IMF’s latest forecasts for economic growth over 2024 and 2025.

IMF World Economic Outlook Update
ICAEW chart of the week

(Horizontal bar chart)


Emerging markets and developing economies (green)
World (purple)
Advanced economies (blue)
UK (red)

Projected annualised real GDP growth 2024 and 2025

Bars in green except where noted.

India: +6.5%
Philippines: +6.0%
Indonesia: +5.0%
Kazakhstan: +4.4%
China: +4.3%
Malaysia: +4.3%
Saudi Arabia: +4.3%
Egypt: +3.8%
Iran: +3.4%
Thailand: +3.2%
Türkiye: +3.1%
World Output: +3.1% (purple)
Nigeria: +3.0%
Poland: +3.0%
Pakistan: +2.7%
World Growth: +2.6% (purple)
South Korea: +2.3% (blue)
Mexico: +2.1%
United States: +1.9% (blue)
Canada: +1.8% (blue)
Russia: +1.8%
Brazil: +1.8%
Spain: +1.8% (blue)
Australia: +1.7% (blue)
France: +1.3% (blue)
South Africa: +1.1%
United Kingdom: +1.1% (red)
Germany: +1.0% (blue)
Argentina: +1.0%
Netherlands: +1.0% (blue)
Italy: +0.9% (blue)
Japan: +0.8% (blue)

8 Feb 2024.
Chart by Martin Wheatcroft FCA. Design by Sunday.
Source: IMF World Economic Outlook Update, 30 Jan 2024.

(c) ICAEW 2024

Each January, the International Money Fund (IMF) traditionally releases an update to its World Economic Outlook forecasts for the global economy. This year it says that it expects the global economy to grow by an average of 2.6% over the course of 2024 and 2025 at market exchange rates, or by 3.1% when using the economists-preferred method of converting currencies at purchasing power parity (PPP).

The chart shows how the 30 countries tracked by the IMF fit between emerging market and developing economies, most of which are growing faster than the global averages, and advanced economies, which tend to grow less quickly. 

The biggest drivers of the global forecast are the US, China and the EU, with both the US and China expected by the IMF to grow less strongly on average over the next two years than in 2023. This contrasts with an improvement over 2023 (which involved a shrinking economy in Germany) by the advanced national economies in the EU over the next two years – apart from Spain, which is expected to fall back from a strong recovery in 2023. 

Growth in emerging and developing countries is expected to average 4.1% over the two years, led by India (now the world’s fifth largest national economy after the US, China, Germany and Japan), followed by the Philippines, Indonesia, Kazakhstan growing faster than China, followed by Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Thailand and Türkiye. 

Nigeria, Poland and Pakistan are expected to grow slightly less than world economic output, followed by Mexico. 

Russia, Brazil and South Africa are expected to grow less strongly, while Argentina is expected to grow the least, with a forecast contraction in 2024 expected to be followed by a strong recovery in 2025.

The strongest-growing of the advanced economies in the IMF analysis continues to be South Korea, followed by the US, Canada, Spain, Australia, France, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy, with Japan expected to have the lowest average growth. Overall, the advanced economies are expected to grow by an average of 1.6% over the next two years.

For the UK, forecast average growth of 1.0% over the next two years is expected to be faster than the 0.5% estimated for 2023, but at 0.6% in 2024 and 1.6% in 2025 we may not feel that much better off in the current year.

Of course, forecasts are forecasts, which means they are almost certainly wrong. However, they do provide some insight into the state of the world economy and how it appears to be recovering the pandemic.

For further information, read the IMF World Economic Outlook Update.

More data

Not shown in the chart are the estimate for 2023 and the breakdown in 2024 and 2025, so for those who are interested, the forecast percentage growth numbers are as follows:

Emerging market and developing countries:

CountryAverage over
2024 and 2025
Saudi Arabia4.1%-1.1%2.7%5.5%
South Africa1.1%0.6%1.0%1.3%

Advanced economies (including the UK): 

CountryAverage over
2024 and 2025
South Korea2.3%1.4%2.3%2.3%

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: UK population projections

The Office for National Statistics has updated its national population projections, lifting its expectations for 2025 by one million to just under 70 million people living in the UK and for 2050 by four million to 78 million.

UK population projections
ICAEW chart of the week

Step chart with five columns each 25 years apart together with four intermediate steps showing the change over each quarter-century.


Population (blue)
Births minus deaths (purple)
Net inward migration (orange)

1975: 56m population
+2m births minus deaths
+1m net inward migration
2000: 59m population 
+3m births minus deaths
+8m net inward migration
2025: 70m population
-0m births minus deaths
+8m net inward migration
2050: 78m population
-3m births minus deaths
+8m net inward migration
2075: 83m population

1 Feb 2024.
Chart by Martin Wheatcroft FCA. Design by Sunday.

Source: ONS, '2021-based UK population projections, 30 Jan 2024'; ONS, 'UK population mid-year estimate'.

(c) ICAEW 2024

My chart for ICAEW this week takes the latest principal population projections for the UK published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on 30 January 2024 and illustrates how the number of people in the UK has increased since 1975 and is projected to increase to 2075.

According to the ONS, there were 56m people living in the UK in June 1975 and our chart shows how this increased by 2m from births exceeding deaths (18m births – 16m deaths) and by 1m from net inward migration to reach 59m in June 2000, an average annual population growth rate of 0.2%.

The first quarter of the current century is expected to see the population increase to just under 70m by the middle of 2025, from a combination of 3m births less deaths (18m births – 15m deaths) and net inward migration of 8m, an average of just over 300,000 per year. This is equivalent to an average annual population growth rate of 0.7%.

From there, the population is projected to increase by approximately 8m to 78m in 2050, an average annual growth rate of 0.4%. This is driven by an assumption that immigration will continue to exceed emigration in the long-term by 315,000 a year, contributing 8m to the increase, while projected deaths are expected to marginally exceed births (18m deaths – 18m births) over the same period. The latter is also affected by the assumed level of immigration, with the ONS estimating that if net migration was zero then the population would fall by 3m over the 25 years to 2050 (18m deaths – 15m births).

The chart concludes with the projection for the following quarter-century from 2050 to 2075, with deaths exceeding births by 3m (21m deaths – 18m births) to partially offset an 8m projected increase from net inward migration to reach 83m in 2075, an average annual population growth of 0.3%.

These numbers are higher than the previous projection published by the ONS in January 2023 by 1m in 2025, 4m in 2050 and 8m in 2075, partly as a consequence of updating the baseline numbers to reflect the 2021 Census, but mainly because of higher assumptions for net inward migration. The ONS doubled the expected number of net inward migrants over the three years to June 2025 from approximately 300,000 per year to around 600,000 per year, and increased its long-term assumption from 245,000 net inward migrants per year to 315,000.

The challenge for policymakers is in balancing the needs of the economy and the public finances for more workers in order to pay for the pensions and health care costs of a rapidly growing number of pensioners, and fee-paying international students to subsidise the domestic university system, with political pressures to control immigration. Perhaps unsurprisingly this had led to a degree of unpredictability in immigration policy.

The challenge for the ONS is trying to reflect in its projections a highly unpredictable immigration policy, which in this case has resulted in it increasing its assumptions for net inward migration just as the government introduces a series of new restrictions that should significantly reduce the incoming flow of migrants. 

The irony is that the ONS might have been better off just leaving its previous projections in place – but then that’s life in the forecasting game.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: Inflation

My chart for ICAEW this week illustrates how core inflation has only dropped from 6.3% in December 2022 to 5.1% in December 2023, even as the headline rate has come down from 10.5% to 4.0%.

Two step charts under the title 'Inflation'.

Step chart 1: 2022
(12 months to Dec 2022)

Core inflation +6.3% (corresponding to 5.0% in height)
+ Food prices +16.8% (height 1.8%)
+ Alcohol & tobacco +3.7% (height 0.2%)
+ Energy prices +52.8% (height 3.5%)

= CPI all items +10.5% (height 10.5%)

Step chart 2: 2023
(12 months to Dec 2023)

Core inflation +5.51% (height 4.0%)
+ Food prices +8.0% (height 0.9%)
+ Alcohol & tobacco +12.9% (height 0.5%)
+ Energy prices -17.3% (height -1.4%)

= CPI all items +4.0% (height 4.0%)

18 Jan 2024.
Chart by Martin Wheatcroft FCA. Design by Sunday.
Source: ONS, 'Consumer price inflation, UK: Dec 2023'.

(c) ICAEW 2024

On 17 January 2023, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published its latest consumer price inflation (CPI) statistics for the 12 months to December 2023, reporting that headline inflation has fallen to an annual rate of 4.0% compared with 10.5% a year earlier – a more than halving of the annual rate of price growth.

This contrasts with CPI excluding energy, food, alcohol and tobacco (typically described as core inflation), which was 6.3% and 5.1% in the 12 months to December 2022 and 2023 respectively.

The left-hand side of my chart this week illustrates how core inflation in the 12 months to December 2022 of 6.3% contributed just under 5.0% to the weighted average total inflation rate of 10.5%, with food prices up 16.8%, alcohol and tobacco up 3.7%, and energy prices up 52.8% contributing a further 1.8%, 0.2% and 3.5% respectively.

The right-hand side shows the 12 months to December 2023, where core inflation of 5.1%, food price inflation of 8.0%, alcohol and tobacco inflation of 12.9%, and a fall in energy prices of 17.3% contributed approximately 4.0%, 0.9%, 0.5% and -1.4% respectively to the weighted average total rate of consumer price inflation of 4.0%

The relative weightings may explain why many people feel that inflation is still running faster than the headline rate. Food prices, up 8.0% in the past 12 months, have increased twice as fast as CPI of 4.0%, while alcohol (up 9.6%) and tobacco (up 16.0%) have gone up by even more. These may have been offset by energy prices coming down by 17.3% over the past 12 months, but this may not be perceived as that beneficial given how energy is still significantly more expensive than it was before the cost-of-living crisis started.

For policymakers, the bigger concern will be the stickiness in core inflation, which remains stubbornly higher than the Bank of England’s target for overall CPI of 2.0%. While the expectation is that both core and headline rates will come down further during the course of 2024, the Bank is likely to remain cautious about declaring victory in the fight against inflation despite worries about the effects of high interest rates on the struggling economy.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: UK flights

My chart for ICAEW this week illustrates how the number of flights to and from UK airports has not fully recovered since the pandemic.

Column chart titled 'UK flights'
ICAEW chart of the week

2019: 2,137,000 flights
2020: 835,000
2021: 823,000
2022: 1,714,000
2023: 1,931,000

11 Jan 2024.
Chart by Martin Wheatcroft FCA. Design by Sunday.

Sources: ONS, 'Daily UK Flight Data, 11 Jan 2024'; EUROCONTROL.

Our chart this week looks at how the number of flights departing and arriving from UK airports (including internal flights) has changed over the past five years. 

According to numbers published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – based on data from EUROCONTROL – there were approximately 2,137,000 flights in 2019, 835,000 in 2020, 823,000 in 2021, 1,714,000 in 2022 and 1,931,000 in 2023.

This was equivalent to daily averages of 5,870, 2,282, 2,254, 4,695 and 5,290 in 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023 respectively.

Despite reports that consumer demand for air travel has recovered to (or potentially even exceeded) pre-pandemic levels, the number of flights in 2023 was only 90% of that seen in 2019. This is believed to reflect changing travel patterns among business travellers, where video conferencing, corporate carbon reduction targets and cost-saving initiatives are all thought to have contributed to a significant reduction in business trips compared with pre-pandemic times.

For the airline industry, the loss of businesses paying higher prices for flexible bookings has been a key challenge that has caused airlines to focus on improving passenger load factors (ie, seat utilisation), promoting premium tickets to leisure travellers and, in some cases, rebalancing towards the budget carrier market.

With the number of flights in the second half of 2023 around 9% more than in 2022, the industry will be hoping for further growth in demand during 2024.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: Sterling exchange rates 2023

My chart for ICAEW this week looks at how the pound appreciated in value against the euro, US dollar, yuan and yen respectively during 2023.

4 x step charts titled 'Sterling exchange rates 2023'


30 Dec 2022: €1.128 = £1.00
Change: +2%
29 Dec 2023: €1.154 = £1.00

US dollar

30 Dec 2022: $1.204 = £1.00
Change: +6%
29 Dec 2023: $1.275 = £1.00

Chinese yuan

30 Dec 2022: ¥8.31 = £1.00
Change: +9%
29 Dec 2023: ¥9.08 = £1.00

Japanese yen

30 Dec 2022: ¥159 = £1.00
Change: +13%
29 Dec 2023: ¥180 = £1.00

4 Jan 2024.
Chart by Martin Wheatcroft FCA. Design by Sunday.

Source: Bank of England, 'Daily spot exchange rates against sterling'.

My first chart of the week of 2024 for ICAEW looks back at 2023 and how sterling strengthened against the euro, US dollar, yuan and yen – the currencies of the four largest economies in the world – based on exchange rates reported by the Bank of England.

The smallest increase was against the principal currency of the European Union, our largest trading partner, with the sterling to euro exchange rate up by just over 2% from £1:00:€1.128 to £1.00:€1.154 between 30 December 2022 and 29 December 2023. 

This contrasted with a 6% rise in sterling against the US dollar during 2023 from £1.00:$1.204 at the end of 2022 to £1.00:$1.275 at the end of 2023, a 9% rise against the Chinese yuan renminbi from £1.00:¥8.31 to £1.00: ¥9.08. Sterling increased, and a 13% increase against the Japanese yen from £1.00:¥159 to £1.00:¥180.

Exchange rate movements can be attributed to multiple factors, including relative rates of inflation and economic growth, interest rates, trade and investment flows, and fiscal credibility among others – both actuals and sentiment about prospects for the future. In sterling’s case, expectations that interest rates in the UK are likely to stay higher for longer than in other major economies is a key contributor to the rise in sterling over 2023, although this is only part of the story.

While sterling has appreciated over the last year against these and many other currencies, the pound is still much lower in value than 10 years ago, being down 4% against the euro compared with £1.00:€1.200 at the end of 2013, down 23% against the US dollar from £1.00:$1.653, and down 9% against the Chinese yuan from £1.00:¥10.01. The exception is the Japanese yen, where the rise this year has more than offset falls over the previous decade to leave sterling 4% higher against the yen than the exchange rate £1.00:¥173 on 31 December 2013.

Time to book that holiday to China or Japan?

ICAEW chart of the week: Incorporations and dissolutions

My chart for ICAEW this week illustrates how company dissolutions continue to outpace incorporations as the economy remains in first gear.

Column chart titled 'Incorporations and dissolutions' with two-column comparisons over five years.

2019: 670,575 incorporations and 671, 501 dissolutions

2020: 758,012 and 536,564

2021: 762,278 and 807,049

2022: 778,219 and 876,521

2023: 801,831 and 825,980

7 Dec 2023.
Chart by Martin Wheatcroft FCA. Design by Sunday.

Source: ONS, 'Companies House incorporations and dissolutions, 7 Dec 2023'.

A key indicator for the health of the economy is the comparison between how many companies are created each year and the number that are dissolved, and our chart this week illustrates how these compare over the last four years up until 1 December 2023.

In 2019 there were 670,575 company incorporations and 671,501 dissolutions (391,066 compulsorily and 280,435 voluntarily), a net contraction in the number of companies of 926, consistent with the rather tepid economy we were experiencing in the year before the pandemic.

The numbers for 2020 were distorted by the pandemic, with incorporations rising to 758,012 and dissolutions falling to 536,564 (275,933 compulsorily and 260,631 voluntarily) – a net increase of 221,448. The rise in incorporations was no doubt contributed to by people deciding to start new businesses during lockdown, although bulk incorporations may also have been a factor. The significant fall in companies dissolved in 2020 compared with the previous year reflects government support on offer during the pandemic that propped up many companies that would otherwise have failed during 2020.

Incorporations rose further to 762,278 in 2021 and 778,219 in 2022, but these gains were more than offset by a sharp rise in dissolutions, which jumped to 807,049 (508,448 compulsorily and 289,604 voluntarily) in 2021 and 876,521 (572,646 compulsorily and 304,875 voluntarily) in 2022 as government support was withdrawn and reality caught up with many companies. Extremely high energy costs and high inflation were key factors in the demise of many businesses over this period. The net decrease in the number of companies was 44,771 in 2021 and 98,202 in 2022.

The number of companies incorporated during the first 11 months of 2023 was 801,831, a 9% rise on the equivalent period last year, while 825,980 companies were dissolved (539,643 compulsorily and 286,337 voluntarily), a rise of less than 1%. This has narrowed the gap to a contraction of 24,149 companies in the first 11 months of 2023.

While these numbers may be accurate to the nearest digit (unlike most sample-based statistics), their meaning for the economy is much less precise. Many companies are incorporated but never go on to trade, while some incorporations are merely a corporate wrapper around an existing business, or with personal service companies they can be a conversion of economic activity from one legal form to another. Unfortunately, companies are also sometimes incorporated for fraudulent purposes. Similarly, companies are wound up for a range of reasons and not just because they are all the consequence of failing businesses.

Despite that, they do provide a helpful indicator on what is going on with the economy, as the ‘cycle of business life’ is played out. For example, in theory it should be positive that even after a post-pandemic ‘shakeout’ the total number of companies over the period from 2019 to 1 December 2023 has grown by 53,300.

This may also be a statistic worth watching in 2024 as Companies House uses its new powers to weed out companies in the register. Just how significant will the introduction of new verification procedures and more active enforcement activity be to numbers of companies being incorporated and dissolved each year?

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: Autumn Statement 2023

My chart for ICAEW this week illustrates how Chancellor Jeremy Hunt used almost all of the available upside from inflation and fiscal drag to fund his tax measures and a series of business growth initiatives.

Autumn Statement 2023

Step chart (waterfall diagram) showing the average change to 2023/24 to 2027/28 forecasts since the Spring Budget 2023.

Forecast revisions (steps in orange):

Inflation +$41bn
Fiscal drag +£7bn
Other changes +£4bn
Debt interest -£21bn
Welfare uprating -£13bn

= Forecast revisions +£18bn (subtotal in purple)

Policy measures (steps in blue):

Tax measures -£11bn
Spending and other -£6bn

= Net changes +£1bn (total in purple)

23 Nov 2023.
Chart by Martin Wheatcroft FCA. Design by Sunday.
Sources: HM Treasury, 'Autumn Statement 2023'; OBR, 'Economic and fiscal outlook, Nov 2023'.

The Autumn Statement 2023 on Wednesday 22 November featured a surprise tax cut to national insurance and a perhaps less surprising decision to make full expensing of business capital expenditure permanent.

As my chart illustrates, the forecasts for the deficit over the next five years benefited by £41bn a year on average in higher receipts from inflation, £7bn a year on average in additional ‘fiscal drag’ as higher inflation erodes the value of frozen tax allowances more quickly, and a net £4bn in other upward forecast revisions. These improvements to the forecasts were offset by an average of £21bn a year in higher debt interest and £13bn from the expected inflation-driven uprating of the state pension and welfare benefits, to arrive at a net improvement of £18bn a year on average over the five financial years from 2023/24 to 2027/28 before policy decisions.

In theory, these upward forecast revisions should be absorbed by more spending on public services as higher inflation feeds through into salaries and procurement costs. However, the Chancellor has chosen to (in effect) sharply cut public spending and use almost all of the upward revisions to fund tax measures and business growth initiatives instead. These amounted to £11bn a year on average in tax changes and £6bn a year on average in spending increases and other changes to reduce the net impact to just £1bn a year on average over the five-year period.

The resulting net change of £1bn on average in forecasts for the deficit is to reduce the forecast deficit by £8bn for the current year (from £132bn to £124bn) and by £1bn for 2024/25 (to £85bn), with no net change in 2025/26 (at £77bn), an increase of £5bn in 2027/28 (to £68bn), and no net change for 2027/28 (at £49bn).

The main tax changes announced were the cuts in national insurance for employees by 2 percentage points from 12% to 10% and by 1 percentage point for the self-employed from 9% to 8%, reducing tax receipts by an average of £9bn over five years. This is combined with the effect of making full expensing permanent of £4bn – this change mainly affects the later years of the forecast (£11bn in 2027/28), although ironically the average is a better proxy for the long-term cost of this change, which the OBR estimates is around £3bn a year. 

Other tax changes offset this to a small extent. 

Spending and other changes of £6bn a year on average comprise incremental spending of £7bn a year plus £2bn higher debt interest to fund that spending, less £3bn in positive economic effects from that spending and from the tax measures above.

Although the cumulative fiscal deficit over five years has been revised down by £4bn, the OBR has revised its forecast for public sector net debt as of 31 March 2028 up by £94bn from to £3,004bn. This principally reflects changes in the planned profile of quantitative tightening and higher lending to students and businesses.

The big gamble the Chancellor appears to be making by choosing to opt for tax cuts now is that the OBR and Bank of England’s pessimistic forecasts for the economy are not realised – enabling him to find extra money in future fiscal events to cover the effect of inflation on public service spending. Otherwise, while it may be possible to cut public spending by as much as the Autumn Statement suggests, it is difficult to see how he can do so without a further deterioration in the quality of public services given he is not providing any additional investment in technology, people and process transformation to deliver sustainable efficiency gains.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

Public sector net debt hits an unprecedented £2.6trn

Monthly public sector finances for October saw spending continue to exceed receipts by a large margin, even if by less than was predicted earlier in the year.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) released the month public sector finances for October on Tuesday 21 November 2023. It reported a provisional deficit for the month of October of £15bn, bringing the cumulative deficit for the first seven months of the year to £98bn, £22bn more than in the same period last year.

Alison Ring OBE FCA, Public Sector and Taxation Director for ICAEW, said: “Although it is positive that the cumulative deficit to October of £98bn is less than the £115bn predicted by the OBR, cash going out continues to exceed cash coming in by a very large margin. Public sector net debt has now exceeded £2.6 trillion for the first time, which is a staggering new record.  

“Tomorrow’s Autumn Statement will see the OBR revise and roll forward its forecast, giving the Chancellor so-called headroom to cut taxes or increase spending. But in reality there is no headroom when the public finances continue to be on an unsustainable path without a long-term fiscal strategy to fix them.”

Month of October 2023

The provisional shortfall in taxes and other receipts compared with total managed expenditure for the month of October 2023 was £15bn, made up of tax and other receipts of £85bn less total managed expenditure of £100bn, up 3% and 6% respectively compared with October 2022. 

This was the second highest October deficit on record since monthly records began in 1993, following a monthly deficit of £18bn in October 2020 at the height of the pandemic.

Public sector net debt as of 31 October 2023 was £2,644bn or 97.8% of GDP, the first time it has exceeded £2.6trn – only eight months after it first reached £2.5trn.

Seven months to October 2023

The provisional shortfall in taxes and other receipts compared with total managed expenditure for the seven months to October 2023 was £98bn, £22bn more than the £76bn deficit reported for the first seven months of 2022/23. This reflected a widening gap between tax and other receipts for the seven months of £595bn and total managed expenditure of £693bn, up 5% and 8% respectively compared with April to October 2022.

Inflation benefited tax receipts for the first seven months compared with the first half of the previous year, with income tax up 10% to £137bn and VAT up 9% to £117bn. Corporation tax receipts were up 12% to £55bn, partly reflecting the increase in the corporation tax rate from 19% to 25% from 1 April 2023, while national insurance receipts were down by 4% to £99bn because of the abolition of the short-lived health and social care levy last year. Stamp duty on properties was down by 27% to £8bn and the total for all other taxes was up just 3% to £115bn, much less than inflation as economic activity slowed. Non-tax receipts were up 10% to £63bn, primarily driven by higher investment income.

Total managed expenditure of £693bn in the seven months to October 2023 can be analysed between current expenditure excluding interest of £587bn, up £39bn or 7% over the same period in the previous year, interest of £76bn, up £4bn or 5%, and net investment of £30bn, up £9bn or 44%.

The increase of £39bn in current expenditure excluding interest was driven by a £20bn increase in pension and other welfare (including cost-of-living payments), £12bn in higher central government pay, £6bn in additional central government procurement spending, plus £1bn in net other changes.

The rise in interest costs for the seven months of £4bn to £76bn comprises a £18bn or 53% increase to £52bn for interest not linked to inflation as the Bank of England base rate rose, mostly offset by an £14bn or 37% fall to £24bn for interest accrued on index-linked debt from lower inflation than last year.The £9bn increase in net investment spending to £30bn in the first seven months of the current year reflects high construction cost inflation amongst other factors that saw a £11bn or 17% increase in gross investment to £65bn, less a £2bn or 6% increase in depreciation to £35bn. 

Public sector finance trends: October 2023

Table showing receipts, expenditure, interest, net investment, deficit, other borrowing and debt movement for the seven months to October 2023 plus net debt and net debt / GDP at 31 October 2023.

Receipts: £466bn (Oct 2019), £425bn (Oct 2020), £500bn (Oct 2021), £565bn (Oct 2022), £595bn (Oct 2023)
Expenditure: (£457bn), (£582bn), (£536bn), (£548bn), (£587bn)
Interest: (£38bn), (£26bn), (£41bn), (£72bn), (£76bn)
Net investment: (£20bn), (£42bn), (£28bn), (£21bn), (£30bn)
[line above subtotal]
Deficit: (£49bn), (£225bn), (£105bn), (£76bn), (£98bn)
Other borrowing: £5bn, (£61bn), (£61bn), £5bn, (£7bn)
[line above total]
Debt movement:  (£44bn), (£286bn), (£166bn), (£71bn), (£105bn)
[line below total]

Net debt: £1,821bn, £2,101bn, £2,319bn, £2,454bn, £2,644bn.
Net debt / GDP: 82.1%, 99.3%, 97.5%, 95.5%, 97.8%

The cumulative deficit of £98bn is £17bn lower than the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR)’s official forecast of £115bn for the first seven months of 2023/24 as compiled in March 2023. The OBR is expected to revise its forecast for the full year deficit down from £132bn in tomorrow’s Autumn Statement, but it is still on track to be more than double the £50bn projection for 2023/24 set out in the official forecast from a year earlier (March 2022). 

Balance sheet metrics

Public sector net debt was £2,644bn at the end of October 2023, equivalent to 97.8% of GDP.

The debt movement since the start of the financial year was £105bn, comprising borrowing to fund the deficit for the seven months of £98bn plus £7bn in net cash outflows to fund lending to students, businesses and others net of loan repayments together with working capital movements.

Public sector net debt is £829bn more than the £1,815bn reported for 31 March 2020 at the start of the pandemic and £2,106bn more than the £538bn number as of 31 March 2007 before the financial crisis, reflecting the huge sums borrowed over the last couple of decades.

Public sector net worth, the new balance sheet metric launched by the ONS this year, was -£716bn on 31 October 2023, comprising £1,565bn in non-financial assets, £1,029bn in non-liquid financial assets, £2,644bn of net debt (£305bn in liquid financial assets less public sector gross debt of £2,949bn) and other liabilities of £666bn. This is a £102bn deterioration from the -£614bn reported for 31 March 2023.


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 latest release saw the ONS revise the reported deficit for the six months to September 2023 up by £1.7bn as estimates of tax receipts and expenditure were updated for better data, while the debt to GDP ratio at the end of September 2023 was revised down by 1.4 percentage points from 97.8% to 96.4% as a consequence of updated estimates of GDP.

This article was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: Inflation by month

My chart this week looks at how September’s inflation rate of 6.7% is made up by month, and why a big drop in the annual rate is predicted next month.

Inflation by month

Step chart showing monthly inflation from October 2022 to September 2022 adding up to annual inflation of +6.7% for the year to September 2023.

Oct 2022 +2.0%
Nov 2022 +0.4%
Dec 2022 +0.4%
Jan 2023 -0.6%
Feb 2023 +1.1%
Mar 2023 +0.8%
Apr 2022 +1.2%
May 2023 +0.7%
Jun 2023 +0.1%
Jul 2023 -0.4%
Aug 2023 +0.3%
Sep 2023 +0.5%

Year to Sep 2023 +6.7%

19 Oct 2023.
Chart by Marin Wheatcroft FCA. Design by Sunday.
Source: ONS, 'Consumer price inflation, UK: September 2023'.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported on 18 October 2023 that the annual rate of consumer price inflation (CPI) for the year to September 2023 was 6.7%.

Our chart this week illustrates how this is made up of monthly inflation rates from October 2022 through September 2023 of +2.0%, +0.4%, +0.4%, -0.6%, +1.1%, +0.8%, +1.2%, +0.7%, +0.1%, -0.4%, +0.3% and +0.5% respectively.

As well as highlighting how the monthly inflation rate can bounce around from month to month, including a couple of times where prices went down, it shows how a big jump in the consumer prices index of +2.0% in October 2022 is a significant component in the annual rate reported for the year to September 2023.

This provides an insight into what is likely to happen to inflation when it is reported next month. Instead of a large rise in domestic energy prices (a 17% increase in the cost of electricity and a 37% increase in the cost of domestic gas between September and October 2022 according to the ONS) that drove the +2.0% reported a year ago, the expectation is that energy prices will drop between September and October 2023 following Ofgem’s decision to reduce the energy price cap by 7% for the current quarter.

When the +2.0% monthly increase from October 2022 drops out of the index to be replaced by a much smaller monthly increase for October 2023 (or even potentially a monthly decrease), the annual rate of inflation should reduce significantly – potentially to as low as the 5.3% ‘halved’ rate of inflation aspired to by the Prime Minister.

For a broader insight into the UK economy, read ICAEW’s economic update October 2023: where next for interest rates?

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.