The CSO’s detailed public finance data

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.

40 replies on “The CSO’s detailed public finance data”

It is all very well dreaming up and using some twisty-turny system of accounts provided you remember you’ve done so.

The issue of process will never complete with sexier topics with their casts of villains, the latest being a Russian oligarch.

The focus on the symptoms often means the causes are ignored and thus the lack of any significant interest in reform of the failed Irish governance and administrative systems.

Alfred P. Sloan, the head of General Motors during its halcyon days, introduced the concept of the decentralized, multi-divisional corporation structure that exists today. Key aspects of the structure were accounting systems and reporting.

Last year Cowen said that the Freedom of Information Act was being abused by long-winded requests.

He said public servants were being forced to spend an inordinate amount of time “trawling through” files when they could be doing other work. “It is an expensive and time-consuming aspect of Government work,” he said.

He should have wondered why.

The Irish system operates like a big divisionalised company with hq only having access to very limited cost information on each division up to about 5 category headings and no equivalent detailed group P&L account providing category totals for all the units.

Hardly a recipe for good control.

What’s the total cost of IT services for central government; bought in IT services; consultancy fees, total breakdown of travel costs etc

The Greek PM says he wants full transparency on public spending; in conservative Ireland, with its culture of limited accountability that would be a bold potentially very important reform but it’s unlikely to happen.

It would of course encourage competition and be in the public interest but the concept of ‘commercial confidentiality’ benefits the insiders; politicians are unlikey to want access to their costs online and on it goes.

It would also force a modernisation in the reporting systems.

Some related issues are covered here:

I can see a listing that includes “Ciste Pinsean Tithe an Oireachtas” but no link to a report, nor any sign it is available in print. Nor anything anywhere else. Is such information in the public domain? Expressions like “Coimhéad fearg fhear na foighde” might hopefully characterise taxpayers and “Ní bhíonn airgead amadáin i bhfad ina phóca” for some politicians.

Thank you for the summary spreadsheets they are a great help. I have been looking for something like this without having to resort to doing the leg work myself!

i am a information designer specialising in Irish statistics and will be using the data for an upcoming project on the budget. You can check out my previous design work on which may be of interest.


Indeed, one sees this listing, but no easy way of getting the documents themselves. I think all are printed and published and filed with the various libraries, but no one electronic source where one find even a pdf, let alone the data in a way one could easily interrogate, in excel or text format.

Apart from the intricacies of the transactions related to bank rescues, it’s particulary bad that one can’t find timely information easily on the Social Insurance Fund and on the financial position (especially on debt) of local government, other than in the rather large aggregates which DoF reports to the EU as part of the Stability Programme.

I’d rather imagine that any Fiscal Council would be on this sort of issue as a key part of its work.

@ Mike

As an example closer to home some UK departments are now publishing, online, and in clear succinct breakdown spending above £500.

The problem with transferring this to local level I think is the case of un-ring fenced funding, of which is hard to pinpoint its final allocation. i.e. e1000 allocated for “housing” could be spent on painting a wall.

Current Government would be averse to this idea, as you can imagine, although I thik its something that any new government will have to step up and print the figures.

All government data should be made public even if without identifying the exact sources, imediately it is received, often these days by electronic means, onto a publically accessible web site.

Academics can then criticise in real time!

Treating everything as secret is a hangover from Imperial and colonial times. It enables incompetence and improper policy and poor execution of sound policy to be suppressed.

I shan’t hold my breath!

Fantastic piece of work Aidan!

I always knew that government tax and expenditures were netted down for transfers and the SIF but had no idea it was at this level.

Government spending was 57% of GNP in 2009! That must be one of the highest in the OECD or does similar netting down happen elsewhere?

Very useful Aidan. Is there any basis for getting stats together on, say, the aggregate income of public authorities (esp. local authorities) for planning, water etc?

Thanks very much Mr. Kane, I do have a question, though. It’s not easy to explain without figures, so I put it here:

(Basically, there seems to be a discrepancy between how much the national debt rose and what the exchequer surplus was over the period you cover on sheet 1. Is this an, eh, artefact? Missing expenditure data? Something sinister? (I really hope it is something sinister, I love a good horror show).

Very interesting to have these numbers so accessible. Thanks to Mr. Kane.

Looking at these data one thing struck me….that the bloat in spending was quite even but was, if anything, more in transfer payments than in contentious areas public sector pay. Public sector pay grew too, but has at least stopped growing. So far spending on transfer payments is continuing to grow, for unfortunate reasons, but the previous growth looks extremely unwise now.

To help myself visualize the data I made a copy of the tables and added charts. It’s on


Indeed I’d hope one could pull those numbers out: I think I’ll ask CSO whether they have some of the underlying component sheets available and see what falls out.


Two main things going on here, I think

1. The “National Debt” is (a) a central government (mainly Exchequer) concept and so doesn’t in particular include local govt debt.

The General Government Debt concepts includes this and other government debt, netting out any cross-indebtedness between sectors to give a consolidated number. So it’s this GGDebt rather than the “National Debt” concept which is, in principle, the stock counterpart to the flow deficit (the CSO version of which, is, as they document, very close indeed to the actual number used by the EU for Stability Programme/Excessive Deficit Procedure stuff.

The National Debt number is also (b) typically quoted as a net of liquid assets concept, i.e., mainly cash and other balances arising from the debt management activities of the NTMA.

(2) There’s a long list of factors which can account for a discrepancy between the deficit and debt, even when measured on a consistent sector of government basis. In the olden days, it was mainly I think governments issuing debt at less than par value, in which case the change in the debt would show up as bigger than the cash raised by way of borrowing. In the current context, I think that the gross-net issued arising from NTMA balances has more of an impact, as well as the treatment of recap.

The powers that be have been tracking this issue in detail, so thanks, hogan for prompting me to dig a little on it. Eurostat and the EU commission refer to it as the Stock-Flow Adjustment (happily known as “SFA”)…

Eurostat has a detailed set of notes on the issue at

where you’ll catch some of the details, but if I have a chance I’ll try to put together some numbers myself on Ireland alone, in way that’s a big easier to read than some of the official returns which DoF are required to make: but you’ll find those here:


Thanks indeed: it’s one of the reasons I’d like our govt to distribute much more stuff in excel, rather than in pdfs. I think we need a quango to implement my suggestion 🙂 On pay, I do have some questions of my own as to what is exactly captured in the CSO number, but if I can pull out more data, I’ll flag it here.

Oh, BTW, I added what I’ve called “Hogan’s Discrepancy” to a tab in the sheet. It’s all the way to the right. I haven’t tried to figure it out, just to put it there.

I thought first it might be caused by a data mismatch across years, but cumulatively it’s pretty big so there must be a line item somewhere else that plugs the gap.

An amazing piece of work.
Health seems interesting. The increased spending has not bben matched by increased service.
Would be very interesting to see what exactly accounts for the increased spend. There is the unavoidable medical inflation of increased drug and device costs. Then there is the issue of repairing years of underinvestment.
But I suspect most spending on health is lost through HSE administration inefficiency.
Is there way of breaking down the increase to see where the money has gone?

hugh, hogan

Table 3B on page 14 of this Eurostat document gives details of this difference (again, between the General Government Deficit and Debt concepts not ‘national debt’ and the Gen Gov deficit–see my comment above.

(confusingly enough, this version seems to get to different estimates of Gen Govt receipts and expenditure, though the deficits is as per CSO/EU tables)

@Aidan & Hugh

Thanks very much, I’ll have a gander at the figures tonight and see can I come up with some accurate debt figures to match what’s the income and expenditure side.

The reason I used the National Debt figures (rather than the GGD) was to try and capture net assets – so the surplus wasn’t just sitting in cash and therefore not accounted (otherwise it would still be hanging around somewhere!). BTW, I think the National Debt includes local authority debt (e.g. the HFA debt). But I am not certain of the logic of either of these positions!

On the HSE/Health spend – there is a significant component of what is effectively social security spend in the figures, no? The HSE/Health budget is responsible for some class of social spending payments, IIRC.

@Aidan – good piece. I have been using the detailed tables to derive regional govenment accounts, which give very interesting results. The published paper (in Regional Studies earlier this year) only has data up to 2004. I have updated this recently but have not had time to summarise it (I will post something her in due course).
@ Colm – there is some aggregate data on local authorities but it is much more interesting to look at these individually. That is much more difficult and the local authority accounts are not that useful. They aggregate all kinds of everything into very broad groups. The last time I looked I was trying to get details on waste collection/ disposal – but I could not find anything good enough to do some real analysis with. Water is the other interesting one – I will have another go at that over the coming weeks.

Cheers, Edgar, and thanks indeed for the heads-up on your regional government accounts work: much needed in the policy debate in Ireland: looking forward to reading your Regional Studies paper and the update.

For others interested, Edgar’s paper is:

Morgenroth, Edgar(2010) ‘Regional Dimension of Taxes and Public Expenditure in Ireland’, Regional Studies, 44: 6, 777 — 789. link to paper.

More generally:

Some of the difficulties related to sourcing good local/regional public finance data for Ireland, and the gory details of the adjustments needed to go from national sources to EU formats, are evident in this 2007 Irish government document to Eurostat which is a detailed inventory of sources and methods in order for Ireland to report under the EDP i.e., Excessive Deficit Procedure.

@Aidan One needs to walk across carefully from Table 21 in the CSO NIE (total central and local govt) to EU published stats (and which are reproduced in the Stability Programme Update by DOF last December – see tables 10 and 11). for the latest, most internationally comparable and most comprehensive the best source to use is the Eurostat database online. Use
Follow the trail from Govt finance stats to database to annual govt. Data are there for all EU States up to an including 2009. there are key differences with Table 21 in the latest NIE – esp for lines 246 and 247.
I agree that Excel tables are handy.

Of course it’s kinda funny to imagine Colm Mc reading all this. An Bord Snip must have been through these tables dozens of times…

@Aidan Kane
“Table 3B on page 14 of this Eurostat document gives details of this difference (again, between the General Government Deficit and Debt concepts not ‘national debt’ and the Gen Gov deficit–see my comment above.”
Yep. Now reading it. Don’t understand much of it!

What on earth are “securities other than shares”?
What on earth is the government doing buying shares? (if that is what the later heading means).

Please tell me that the Irish state wasn’t the biggest shareholder in the ISEQ? That it isn’t the bank bondholder that needs to be paid that it is so worried about?

Edgar, there is a fig for national operating expenditure on water in the Mcloughlin report (on DOE website) but I can’t get an aggregate national fig for revenue of the 34 water authorities. Anyone any ideas?

Hugh, CSO have done well here but lots of black holes still. Balance sheets in particular.

Thanks Aidan and to everyone else for most enlightening thread.

Hugh’s chart ‘ Spending as % of GNP 1995-2009 (by government sector) ‘ certainly gives pause for thought.

Health is interesting. It encompasses the activities of several well entrenched professions, and is mostly a price taker for MNC products and services. It also generates a substantial chunk of long-term transfer payments as a byproduct of its own activity.
Principal-agent problems and conflicts of interest have blocked reform of our health sector to date. They have also had a corrosive effect on management authority, so that staff co-operation with cutbacks is liable to be grudging at best.

Michael, the figs show rev 722, income 269 but these are budgetted cash, ie receipts and payments accounts only.

@Michael Hennigan – thanks for the link. They seem to have improved the level of detail since I looke at these last.

@Paul Quigley – health is indeed interesting – 19.4% of expenditure. In the UK it was 17.5% last time I looked, but they have universal coverage.

It is a great challenge to deliver health care free to all. It is also inherently expensive. Few countries really get it right.
But where did all that money go?
Admin has been built up but is last to be cut. Where is it possible to find out relative expenditure on non-clinical in health care across different countries?

A bit more on health.
I’ve done a very crude analysis on the data shown.
The HSE was established in 2005. In the 10 years up to 2005 the average year on year increase in healthcare spending was 660
In the years post HSE the avearge year on year increase is 735.8
Figures for the rest of the economy show that average year on year increase was 1469 prior to 2005 and 1420 after (an actual decrease in rate of increase)
So the establishment of the HSE coincided with an increase in year on year spending increase that was not coupled to the rest of the economy.
It is an inefficiency in itself.
I’m not an economist so how can you prove that something is inherently a waste of money and hold the minister accountable for it to task. It is in essence a highly expensive whipping boy for the Minsiter for Health (now there’s an image!)

On local govt, there seems to be only one time series of data in the local govt document that Michael H referenced, but I’ve added it to the spreadsheet on the right, out past the sheet for the Hogan Discrepancy. It’s from page 24 of the PDF that Michael H referenced.

The question I have now is how much of Local Govt spending should be added to the central govt spending in order to have a better view of how much of GNP is state spending. I guess that the central funding is reflected in the CSO data, although I can’t see exactly where, but there’s a whole bunch of local specific revenue raising and spending too. It looks like bringing state spending up near 60% of GNP…………..

Again, the charts are scary. Businesses must have been suffering hugely under the rates burden in 2009, when commercial rates seem to have exceeded 1% of GNP.


The CSO sheets I originally linked to make this clear enough: as indicated they report central and local (receipts and expend) separately, and also present the consolidated numbers (central + local, netting out inter-governmental transfers): those are the ones I used in my sheets. So no need to add the DoE sheet to the CSO ones: there’s enough expenditure there already 🙂

One thing that needs watching in looking at central and local separately is where there’s a change in administrative structure: a lot of health expend was classified as local pre-HSE, and central thereafter. Also on Health, check the CSO detailed notes: some of the increase under that head is due to the re-classification of voluntary hospital budgets to within the govt sector, reflecting the reality of greater state control

Thank to michael for the link to DoE for local budgets: while they cover a lot of the ground needed for the bird’s eye view, they’re not in the best format for those purposes, and I think from the data inventory I linked to earlier, that the CSO seeks returns from local authorities in national income format.

A late addition to the thread, but if you see this perhaps you could reply. I see differences between your table 2 and the NIE document’s table 21. For instance the income tax numbers are different and I can’t quite see why. It’s probably in a footnote somewhere, but I confess I’m not seeing it.

Hi Hugh,

I don’t think there’s an error here, but a little variation or inconsistency in how some of these categories are used, which I think is confusing in the CSO document, if I might be so bold.

Just to focus on the 2009 for clarity, CSO NIE Table 21 has the two items (all in € millions)

Item 23. Taxes on Income and Wealth 16,534
Item 24. Social Insurance Contributions 8,914

The total of these two of 25,448 appears (as 25,449 – somebody gained/lost a million in rounding) again in CSO NIE Table 22 as “Taxes on Income and Wealth” which I would say is a tad confusing/inconsistent.

But their Table 22 is very useful in that you’ll see this broad category includes “Income Tax (including sur-tax)” of 11,684 which is more less what you and I mean by Income Tax i.e., mainly PAYE, and that’s my number for “Income Tax” on my Table 2. Not sure if we still have sur-tax, by the way, but who knows ☺

Some would simply put Income Tax in the sense of PAYE together with Social Insurance contributions as “Income Tax” but I thought it worthwhile retaining the distinction here to emphasis that the Social Insurance stuff is not easily discernible, if at all, when looking at e.g., Exchequer returns.

In other words, their Table 21 number includes not only PAYE but Corporation Tax revenue of 3,889 and other ‘taxes on income and wealth’, apart from Social Insurance contributions.

When I check these numbers I look to see that my revenue and expenditure items independently give the same deficit number as the original data, which is not foolproof, but a good data entry check.

Thanks for that. I didn’t expect or suspect an error….but exactly the kind of categorization issue you’re explaining.

I suppose one reason for the double checking in that area was surprise at seeing “only” €11 billion in income tax. That means that to close the budget gap we’d need to more than double income tax…significantly more than double it. That was/is surprising to me.

Again, thanks.

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