Public spending patterns since devolution ‘interesting and perhaps unexpected’

Public spending patterns since devolution ‘interesting and perhaps unexpected’

The Auditor General for Wales looks at how public spending has changed over the course of devolution compared to other parts of the UK

In the first decade of devolution, total public spending per head in Wales grew at almost 4% a year in real terms. The public sector austerity that followed saw spending gradually fall. If the pattern of the first 10 years had continued, public spending per head would have been around 40% higher in 2017-18 than was the case.  These figures are all set out in a new report and data tool published today.

Overall public spending per head in Wales has been consistently higher than England but lower than Scotland and Northern Ireland over the entire period of devolution. Spending per head in Wales in 2017-18 was £10,587 compared to £11,081 in Scotland, £11,394 in Northern Ireland and £9,247 in England. These figures cover both devolved and non-devolved spending.

There are some interesting and perhaps unexpected variations concerning individual policy areas, for example:

  • In health, until very recently spending per head in Wales had been converging to the lower level seen in England, despite the higher levels of need and overall public funding in Wales.
  • A similar pattern can be observed in education where the consistently higher per capita spending in Wales relative to England seen in the early years of devolution is now far less clear cut.
  • Spending on economic development in Wales has consistently been much higher than in England, and for the early years of devolution was higher than anywhere else in the UK. While it remains significantly higher than in England it is now below the levels in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • Spending on culture and recreation grew faster than most other parts of the UK until 2007-08. More recently expenditure has been below Scotland and Northern Ireland, but has remained significantly higher in Wales than in England.

The Auditor General for Wales, Adrian Crompton said today:

“This analysis sheds light on how the public funds spent in Wales have been deployed and the relative levels of spending on broad policy areas. There are some striking findings for public services, policy makers and politicians to consider as they scrutinise the current budget round and for the longer term.

Decision-making in the Welsh public sector is seen through the lens of the Well-Being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. I hope that by shedding some light on the past, this analysis informs decision making for the future and so will assist those charged with taking forward the next 20 years of devolved government and public spending in Wales.”


Notes to Editors:

  • This report and data tool assess how public spending in Wales has changed over the course of devolution, since 1999, compared to other parts of the UK.
  • The Auditor General’s public spending data tool can be found via the Wales Audit Office website. The tool contains the longer-term analysis of public spending in Wales. Both the report and the tool are based on the Office for National Statistics’ Country and Regional Public Finances 2017-18 dataset which includes both devolved and non-devolved spending. 
  • The Auditor General is the independent statutory external auditor of the devolved Welsh public sector. He is responsible for the annual audit of the majority of the public money spent in Wales, including the £15 billion of funds that are voted on annually by the National Assembly. Elements of this funding are passed by the Welsh Government to the NHS in Wales (over £7 billion) and to local government (over £4 billion).
  • The audit independence of the Auditor General is of paramount importance. He is appointed by the Queen, and his audit work is not subject to direction or control by the National Assembly or government. 
  • The Wales Audit Office (WAO) is a corporate body consisting of a nine member statutory Board which employs staff and provides other resources to the Auditor General, who is also the Board’s Chief Executive and Accounting Officer. The Board monitors and advises the Auditor General, regarding the exercise of his functions.
Public Spending Trends in Wales 1999-00 to 2017-18