The CSO’s detailed public finance data
This post was written by Aidan Kane
The CSO publishes annually, as part of the National Income and Expenditure document, detailed tables related to the public finances, which are of particular interest in the context of the current urgent focus on fiscal policy, to the extent perhaps of providing a more useful starting point for multi-year fiscal plans than the traditional exchequer and budgetary formats, which are not fit for that purpose. Some details and links to data on all this follow.
The CSO presents data on the receipts and expenditure for the consolidated central and local government (together and separately), including fairly detailed breakdowns of key aggregates such as transfer payments, public capital, taxation, and the like. The consolidated approach allows us to see the government sector as a whole, including various funds and accounts not usefully teased out in exchequer/budgetary presentations, and covering also the local government sector.
To get such a bird’s eye view (for the interested reader or legislator) would otherwise require sourcing and torturing a whole series of government accounts, most of which are lamentably unavailable (benchmarking against an impatient Googler), in this knowledge economy of ours.
See this list from the C&AG for examples (it includes the brilliantly disguised “Ciste Pinsean Tithe an Oireachtas”).
The data presented in August this year by CSO were notable for a number of improvements, particularly relevant now. They relate in itemised detail their presentation to international national income accounting standards, and specifically allows the relatively straightforward derivation of a surplus/deficit consistent with General Government Balance concept which now determines our fate. This is an improvement on the circuitous route to that concept otherwise available from DoF documents.
(The DoF do of course present this national accounts format as part of the budgetary tables, but it is rather terse and buried in the welter of other traditional tables, with the grossing, and the netting, and the drawing balances wherever suits, presented just like Mr Gladstone would have wanted.)
The CSO noted this year that improvements in data processing allowed them to present (preliminary) data for the year immediately preceding publication, which is a first.
The CSO NIE 2009 pdf document which includes background notes on definitions, and changes in concepts, is here.
Tables 19 to 29 are the ones to treasure, and share with friends. This document has tables from 2004.
The CSO also very usefully provides the detailed tables in excel format here, with retrospection to 1995.
I’ve adapted these data to show summaries and breakdowns which might be a little more intuitive to some, and that spreadsheet, with three worksheets, is here.
Naturally, any format has its limitations (it’s not clear to me yet how all the banking recaps appear in CSO NIE 2009, but I wish to have something to look forward to for the week-end), and all of this is by way of mere ground-clearing for the more difficult political and analytical challenges.
One could nevertheless suggest that in framing any serious multi-year fiscal plan, we would have to do a lot better (for markets and citizens) than the traditional format, even on this narrow question of presenting the data: for example by explicitly and consistently linking the flows captured in this sort of presentation with the relevant stocks of debt and contingent liabilities, across the various government, quasi-government and pretending-to-be-non-government-but-really-government funds and accounts which now litter the fiscal landscape.