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Main Estimates: Government spending plans for 2019-20

Published Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A summary of the process and details of the 2019-20 Main Estimates, the way in which Parliament approves the Government's spending plans.

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What are Estimates?

One of Parliament’s longest standing functions is the consideration and authorisation of the Government’s spending plans, requiring the Government to obtain parliamentary consent before spending public money.

Main Estimates are the documents that contain the detail of those spending plans for a particular year. There is a separate Estimate for each Government Department. Changes are presented at the end of each year through Supplementary Estimates. Each of the Estimates must be authorised by Parliament before they take effect. In the early part of the year, funding is provided through an advance, known as the Vote on Account.

The 2019-20 Main Estimates

The 2019-20 Main Estimates were published on 9 May 2019. They show the initial budgets which the government is seeking for each department, divided into separate limits for current, day-to-day spending -on staff and other running costs, on goods and services and grants; and capital (investment) spending - covering purchase and sale of assets, loans and capital grants. Costs are further divided into spending subject to fixed limits, based broadly on the plans outlined for 2019-20 in the 2015 Spending Review,  known as Departmental Expenditure Limits; and less predictable and more demand led spending, known as Annually Managed Expenditure. Cash block grant proposed to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is also included under a separate heading.

Public spending overall (including that within Estimates) in 2019-20 is forecast to be 3.6% higher than in 2018-19, rising from £811.8 billion in 2018-19 to £840.7 billion in 2019-20. Not all of this spending is contained within Estimates.

What has changed since last year?

  • Day-to-day spending on health is up by £7.7 billion (+6.1%) and on education by £2.3 billion (+3%) compared to last year;
  • Over £4.3 billion in total (affecting most departments) is provided to cover a large increase, from 1 April 2019, to employers’ pension contributions, with this extra funding being provided from Treasury, over and above previous plans;
  • The boost to justice spend of over £1 billion, made last year to plug gaps in funding and unrealised income, and restore justice budgets to levels not seen for several years, is broadly maintained;
  • Many departments continue to have been provided with extra Brexit funding in 2019-20, as many were in 2018-19. The amounts for 2019-20, included in the Main Estimates are shown here.
  • Housing and communities investment rises by over £ 2 billion, and spending on HS2 also rises by £2 billion;
  • Spending on pensions and benefits continues to rise, now reaching over £226 billion or around a quarter of all public spending.

Parliament’s role in considering Estimates

Before the latest Main Estimates can be approved, Estimates day debates will take place on the floor of the House of Commons. Under arrangements introduced in February 2018, any backbench member may bid for a topic for one of these debates, which should be linked to the spending, or an aspect of spending, contained in the Main Estimate of a department or other body.

The Backbench Business Committee will consider bids for debates at its meeting on Tuesday 18 June, and decisions will be announced in a future business statement. Two days of debates on the Main Estimates are provisionally scheduled for the first week in July 2019.

Following the debates, the House is invited to agree motions on those Estimates selected for debate. Members may agree or reject these motions, or suggest amendments reducing expenditure. There is a further ‘roll up motion’ covering the remaining Estimates, which members may accept or reject. Under the ‘Crown prerogative’ only Government can propose spending, so amendments to increase spending are not permitted.

Once motions have been authorised, a Supply and Appropriation bill is presented. Unlike most bills there is no committee stage, and as with other financial legislation the House of Lords’ role is purely formal. On receiving Royal Assent, departments are able to draw upon the agreed funds set out in the Act for the purposes Parliament has authorised.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8575

Authors: Larry Honeysett; Philip Brien

Topics: Parliamentary procedure, Public administration, Public expenditure

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