The Whitehall Monitor is the Institute for Government’s data journalism project. Today, just a week before the final Spending Review settlements are revealed, we launched our third annual report, ‘The Coalition in 163 charts’. Gavin Freeguard highlighted some of these charts to tell four stories about what has happened over the last five years, and where that leaves departments as they face a very tough spending review. Over the course of the Parliament government revenue went up, but so too did government spending. Overall however, the gap between spending and receipts (the deficit) narrowed, and it now stands at £90bn. Departments differ a lot in how much money they spend. Together, DWP and DH accounted for 50% of government spending in 2014/14. They dwarfed the Treasury – the sun around which all government spending revolves, which has a budget of (only) £200 million. Different departments spend their money in different ways: allocating funds directly to programmes; channelling funding through arm’s-length bodies (ALBs) and other organisations, or through grants (e.g. to local authorities); or allocating resources using a markets model, where the department commissions other organisations to carry out work on its behalf. This has implications for the control departments have over their spending reductions. This picture may well change over the next five years: as one audience member remarked, the new devolution deals will have an impact on the way that government funding is distributed. The deficit reduction was partly achieved by reducing the number of civil servants. At the start of the Parliament, there were just under 480,000 civil servants (full-time equivalent – FTE). By the end of the Parliament (March 2015) there were 406,000 staff (FTE). This represents a substantial – 15% – drop, but it is still some way off the 23% reduction anticipated in the 2012 Civil Service Reform Plan. The data shows that reductions in staff were front-loaded, but then petered out towards the end of the Parliament. This may anticipate the pattern of headcount reductions in the next Parliament, or highlight the difficulties that departments now face in squeezing their staff further. The headcount reductions have changed the composition of the Civil Service. Lin Homer, Permanent Secretary of HMRC, recently talked about turning hers into a ‘diamond-shaped’ department. This would involve staff reductions at the lower, administrative grades, with most of the civil servants employed in the middle grades. At the moment, HMRC is rather more pyramidal, with the bulk of civil servants employed at administrative grades. Other departments that manage a large number of transactions with the public, such as DWP, are similarly pyramid-shaped. Digital transformation offers some scope to continue to reduce headcount (particularly at the bottom of the pyramid) by introducing more automation. The most prominent digital project of the last Parliament was the creation of gov.uk, the single government website. This now attracts 12 million visitors a week. However, while the 25 exemplar services (15 of which were live before the election) gave an indication of what could be done in digitising services, a much greater pace of change – with a focus on ‘back end’ administrative processes as well as ‘front-end’ transactional interactions – will be needed to realise these benefits. After the Spending Review settlements are published, we will have a better sense of where responsibility for developing digital processes in government will lie. Our report is a testament to Whitehall’s efforts to improve the quality of government data, and to get it published. But while the UK is currently a world leader in open data – as the international rankings charted above show – there is still work to be done. Data needs to be published in a clear in consistent way, and it needs to be comprehensible and explained. Data also needs to be used as evidence, to show government how their interventions are affecting the world. As the Whitehall Monitor reported earlier this year, the Coalition’s attempt to do this (‘impact indicators’) was rather inadequate. You can download a full PDF of Whitehall Monitor 2015: the Coalition in 163 charts. The Whitehall Monitor website has links to all our regular blogposts, as well as the data behind the charts. Stay tuned for a report on our panel discussion on government data – with Jeni Tennison of the Open Data Institute and Megan Lucero of The Times – in our next blog. Like Whitehall Monitor? Tell us your views via this short survey.
Abbreviations for government departments can be found here.