GERS and High Speed Rail

How do Scottish accounts treat HS2?

A Twitter user claimed “Scotland pays 9%” towards infrastructure projects in England. This amount “goes towards your deficit”. Over 300 users shared this claim.

This claim is untrue. For the High Speed 2 project, the estimated figure is about 2%. Railway infrastructure spending is generally assigned based on where it is.

Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland

Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland are National Statistics produced by Scottish Government statisticians. The Office for Statistics Regulation says GERS complies with its Code of Practice. The publication uses a National Accounts basis, in line with international reporting standards.

GERS seeks to answer three questions about Scottish finances under its current constitution:

  • What revenues did Scotland raise?
  • What did Scotland spend on public services?
  • What is the estimated difference between revenue and expenditure?

The publication is about Scottish public finances, rather than the wider Scottish economy. GERS follows these methodological principles:

  • Expenditure: estimated spending incurred for the benefits of residents and enterprises in Scotland.
  • Revenue: estimated taxes imposed on residents and enterprises in Scotland.

Estimated expenditures partially come from spending by the Scottish government, and Scottish local government. Plus, that expenditure includes apportioned UK government spending, such as pensions.

From this work, we estimate Scotland’s net fiscal position:

To help readers, figures are often shown with and without North Sea oil revenue. (Image: GERS 2018/19)

Checking the accounts

A Twitter user wrote that:

If England build a new infrastructure like HS2, only going to Birmingham, crossrail in London etc.

Are you aware that Scotland pays 9% towards it and it goes towards your deficit.

The High Speed 2 rail project seeks to connect major cities with high-speed track. According to the GERS method note for 2013/14, this is how Scottish accounts treat HS2:

Within GERS, the expenditure has been apportioned to Scotland in line with the regional breakdown of the benefits of High Speed 2 reported within The Economic Case for HS2, published by the Department for Transport. This assigns Scotland 2% of the total expenditure.

There is a database showing Scottish spending in GERS. In 2017/18, about £57m of HS2 current and capital spending was assigned to Scotland. The UK total was £2.6bn, so the Scottish share was 2.2% — not 9%.

In the same database, Crossrail is shown as £0 for GERS in 2017/18¹. Crossrail is not part of the Scottish deficit.

Search and see. (Image: edited version of GERS detailed expenditure data)

As the 2013/14 note states:

As discussed in previous editions of GERS, railways expenditure is apportioned to Scotland on an in basis.

Except for HS2, GERS assigns railway infrastructure where the spending is. Such spending must be in Scotland. That is what the ‘in’ basis means.

People should avoid misrepresenting statistics in public debate.

¹To find these figures, search ‘High Speed Two’ and ‘Crossrail’ in the segment description. I have published an edited version of the latest GERS detailed expenditure database.

This blog looks at the use of statistics in Britain and beyond. It is written by RSS Statistical Ambassador and Chartered Statistician @anthonybmasters.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store