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Public spending by country and region

Published Thursday, November 30, 2017

This note provides information on levels of public spending per head in the countries and regions of the UK.

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In 2016/17, public spending per head in the UK as a whole was £9,159. In England, it was £8,898 (3% below the UK average).  This compares with:

  • Scotland: £10,651 (16% above the UK average)
  • Wales: £10,076 (10% above the UK average)
  • Northern Ireland £11,042 (21% above the UK average).

Among the English regions, public spending per head was lowest in the South East at £8,111 (11% below the UK average) and highest in London at £10,192 (11% higher than the UK average).

The data shown are for public expenditure per head and are taken from HM Treasury’s Country and regional analysis: 2017, which contains more detailed information including spending by function (health, education etc).

 Spending per head by region

Introduction: The data

For many types of spending, we have a good idea of how much goes to each region or nation within the UK. This “identifiable expenditure” covers around 88% of total public spending and is the focus of this briefing. The remaining 12% is regarded as benefiting the UK as a whole and therefore is not attributed to a particular region or nation – a classic example is spending on defence.

For Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the data include expenditure by the devolved administrations but also spending in these countries by UK Government departments. For example, the Department for Work and Pensions is responsible for social security expenditure throughout Great Britain. So, for example, DWP expenditure on social security in Scotland is included under Scotland in the tables below.

Spending per head, 2016/17

Table 1 below and the chart above show public expenditure per head for each country and region. The table shows considerable variation between the different parts of the UK. For example, public spending per head is £8,898 in England compared with £11,042 in Northern Ireland – a difference of around £2,100. Public expenditure per head in Northern Ireland is 21% higher than the UK average, in Scotland it is 16% higher and in Wales 10% higher. There are also differences in spending levels between the English regions where spending per head ranges from £8,111 in the South East to £10,192 in London. 

In interpreting the data, it is necessary to bear two points in mind. First, the scope of the public sector varies between countries. For example, water supply is in the public sector in Scotland and Northern Ireland but in the private sector in England and Wales. Second, the figures are intended to give a broad overview and cannot be regarded as a precise measure. This is because it is not always easy to decide who benefits from particular expenditure and simplifying assumptions are made in compiling the data. Small differences in expenditure between regions should not, therefore, be regarded as significant.

Spending per head, 2012/13 to 2016/17

Tables 2 and 3 show public spending per head for each country and region of the UK since 2012/13.

Commons Briefing papers SN04033

Authors: Matthew Keep; Philip Brien

Topic: Public expenditure

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