Today the Scottish Government published Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland – or ‘GERS’ for short – for the year 2016-17.
GERS is produced annually and provides estimates of total public spending in Scotland, as well as tax receipts for the previous five years. It provides a snapshot of Scotland’s public finances – but is far from the full picture.
Here’s what you need to know.
Growth in Scotland’s onshore economy is at its highest level on record.
Onshore revenues - excluding North Sea revenues - increased by £3.3 billion between 2015-16 and 2016-17 - a 6.1 per cent increase. That’s the fastest increase since records began in 1998-99. North Sea revenue also grew. Meanwhile, the notional deficit fell by £1.3 billion in 2016-17 - a 10 per cent drop - and stood at 8.3 per cent of GDP.
We continue to invest more in our public services and on economic growth.
GERS shows that the Scottish Government is investing £116 more per head than the UK Government on health, and £181 more on education. The SNP Scottish Government is also investing more in growing our economy. Spending on economic development in Scotland is higher than the UK as a whole – to the tune of £43 per head. And, when it comes to capital investment, which accounts for spending on public infrastructure like hospitals and schools, spending is £276 higher per head in Scotland than in the UK as a whole.
Scotland’s public finances are in line with the UK outside of London and the south-east.
For the first time we now have GERS-like equivalent figures for all of the nations and regions of the UK. ONS analysis published in May shows that Scotland performs ahead of several English regions and in line with the UK average outside of London and south-east England.
Scotland’s economy is strong
Scotland’s employment is at its highest level on record, and unemployment is the lowest of any UK nation.
Most recent figures show Scotland’s economy grew more quickly than the UK as a whole. In the first quarter of 2017 Scotland’s economy grew by 0.7 per cent, nearly four times as fast as the UK’s.
Scotland’s onshore economy grew by £3.3 billion between 2015 - 17 and 2016-17 - the fastest growth in 20 years.
Productivity growth in Scotland is outperforming the UK as a whole. Official statistics show that output per hour worked in Scotland has grown 3.5 per cent in Scotland in 2015, compared to a UK figure of 0.9 per cent. That’s four times faster.
Over the last 10 years, Scotland has secured more foreign direct investment projects than any other part of the UK outside London.
GERS figures don’t take account of the impact of Brexit.
Our long-term economic success is now threatened by Brexit - something that isn’t captured by GERS. Analysis published by the Scottish Government shows that leaving the EU could reduce Scottish tax revenues by between £1.7 billion and £3.7 billion a year by 2030. For the Scottish economy as a whole, it could cost up to £11.2 billion a year in the long term.
GERS tells us about the status quo and very little about the opportunities of independence.
Scotland is rich in human talent and natural resources. But we lack the economic levers to maximise growth in our economy, and invest according to our own priorities. Even after the Smith Commission powers are fully implemented, 71 per cent of taxes raised in Scotland will be controlled in Westminster. The figures used also factor in UK government spending choices – for example on Trident – which would be entirely different under an independent Scottish Government. And, our ability to grow our population – and our tax base – is limited by the UK Government too.
With independence, the Scottish Government could design policies that are tailored to Scotland’s – not the UK government’s – circumstances.
Dr Andrew Goudie, former chief economist to the Scottish Government, said in 2003 that GERS “tells us nothing...about the situation under independence.”
The Fraser of Allander Institute has also stated, on 18 August 2017, that “If the very purpose of more autonomy is to take different choices about the type of economy and society that we live in, then a set of accounts based upon the current constitutional settlement and policy priorities will tell us little about the long-term finances of an independent Scotland.”