House of Commons Library

Country and regional public sector finances

Published Thursday, May 30, 2019

This briefing looks at estimates of public spending and revenues in UK countries and regions.

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The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has, for the third time, estimated how much the UK public sector spends for the benefit of each UK country and region and how much tax and other revenues are raised from each.

The difference between spending and revenue is the area’s net fiscal balance. In this Library briefing:

  • A negative net fiscal balance indicates that public sector spending in the region is greater than revenues raised in the area. The region has a net fiscal deficit.
  • A positive net fiscal balance indicates that revenues raised in the area exceed public sector spending in the region. The region has a net fiscal surplus.

Net fiscal balance

In 2017/18, London, South East and East of England all had net fiscal surpluses. In these regions the revenues raised were greater than the public spending received. All other countries and regions had a net fiscal deficit with each receiving more public spending than was raised in revenues.

Net fiscal balance, UK regions

In 18 of the past 19 years London and South East have been in surplus. East of England had a surplus in 13 of the 19 years, while East Midlands and South West had surpluses in two years. All other countries and regions had a deficit in all 19 years.


In 2017/18, spending per person was highest in Northern Ireland, Scotland and London. Spending per person was lowest in East of England, East Midlands and South East.

Public spending, UK regions, £ per head

In all UK countries and regions social protection – which covers social security benefits, including the state pension, as well as personal tax credits and adult social care – is the most significant area of public spending, followed by health and education. The three categories cover around 70% of public spending in the UK.


London, South East and East of England raised the most revenue per person in 2017/18. London and South East raised the most in absolute terms. These two regions raised around 36% of UK revenues in 2017/18.

Wales, North East and Northern Ireland raised the least revenue per person in 2017/18.

Public sector revenues, UK regions, £ per head

Income tax, VAT and National Insurance contributions (NICs) are the three most significant revenue raisers in each country and region.

The data and how it is calculated

The data are classified as experimental statistics. The label of ‘experimental statistics’ doesn’t mean that the statisics are of low quality, but it does signify that they are novel and still being developed.

The ONS mainly allocates spending and revenues to regions using assumptions, rather than administrative data. This is because revenues are generally not collected on a regional basis – they are largely collected centrally by HMRC – and, similarly spending is generally planned to benefit a category of people or businesses irrespective of location. The data should be treated as statistical estimates only.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8027

Author: Matthew Keep

Topics: Public expenditure, Taxation

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