Just give us 12 months… comparing local government funding settlements over time

Reading Time: 3 minutes

At this time of year, once provisional figures for the coming year’s Budget have been made available, SPICe is often asked to set out how the funding for specific local authorities has changed in recent years.

This may seem quite simple, but the figures aren’t always what they seem.

We’ve already spoken in other blogs and briefings about how different figures can be used to represent the local government settlement, and we’ve touched on the issues of making comparisons over time, but this blog sets out the time challenges in more detail.

How much has my council’s budget changed in recent years?

At this stage in the Budget process, there are varying set of figures available, none running up to the most recently published provisional figures (for 2019-20) because of the time-lag in when data is available.

Essentially, throughout the Budget process, there are (at least) four different points when the figures for revenue support to local authorities are published or updated, and care needs to be taken to compare like-for-like. In some years, there may be additional changes which further complicate things. For instance, in 2018-19 and 2019-20, additional funds were announced at Stage 1 of the Budget (in January) to be applied though Amendments at Stage 2 of the Budget Bill.

The following infographic shows the four key stages, using 2018-19 as an example.

SPICe_Blog_2019_Local gov funding data_timetable flower

Source: SPICe

At this point of the year (February), we have final outturn (or actual) funding figures available up to 2017-18, provisional outturn figures (which are likely to change) up to 2018-19, and provisional allocation figures only for 2019-20, which have been updated from Budget figures based on Stage 1 additions to the local government settlement.

This leaves us with a few options for what we compare, as we can compare on any of these measures. That said, we know that come early-March both the final allocation figures for 2019-20 and the final outturn figures for 2018-19 will be published, so any look at the provisional figures will soon be out of date.

For this reason, when people ask for long-term data at this point in the Budget cycle, we would recommend that now is not the time.

So when should I look at historical comparisons?

We would always recommend waiting until the Local Government Finance Circular accompanying the Local Government Finance Order has been published to make up to date comparisons (normally in late February/early March).

Once these updated figures are available, we would suggest looking at one of the two following datasets –

  • final outturn figures running up to 2018-19, which will provide the most accurate and up to date figure (given in-year allocations are generally made); or
  • final allocation figures up to 2019-20, which would be based on the final allocations published and would provide the longest time-series, but would not take in to account any final in-year allocations and so would not represent the actual amount of funding for historic years.

In the meantime, we generally suggest looking at SPICe’s ‘local government: facts and figures briefings’, which are published in spring. In this, we explore final outturn figures for local government overall.

From 2018, we also used this briefing to make a comparison over time using final allocations up to the current financial year, showing the changes per head, and as a percentage of the Scottish average.

What if I want figures for a specific local authority

If you’re looking for actual figures over time, as opposed to £ per head or a percentage change, then SPICe is happy to provide this on request for MSPs for the years 2013-14 onwards once figures have been published in March.

This could be either final outturn figures for the year just closing, or final allocation figures up to the upcoming or new Budget year.

Further reading

Ailsa Burn-Murdoch, Senior Researcher, Financial Scrutiny Unit