Public spending gaps within UK closing

THE GULF between government spending on England and the rest of the United Kingdom closed over the last four years, with the English beginning to catch up with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, according to the latest Treasury figures, writes Anthony Bevins.

The figures show that while there had been a gap of 27 per cent between per capita spending in Scotland and England in 1987- 88, the Scots' lead had shrunk to 18 per cent by 1991-92.

Overall, spending on England rose from pounds 96.9bn to pounds 142.4bn between 1987-88 and 1991-92, an increase of 47 per cent. That compared with overall increases of 42 per cent for Wales, 36 per cent for Northern Ireland, and 35 per cent for Scotland.

On a per capita basis, there was a similar pattern. A table showing 'identifiable general government expenditure by territorial area' gave each person in England a 45 per cent increase in Exchequer finance, to pounds 2,963, while each person in Scotland received only 35 per cent extra, to pounds 3,506.

The gap in per capita spending between England and Wales fell from 14 per cent to 10 per cent, with Welsh spending, per head, going up 40 per cent to pounds 3,268.

The gap between England and Northern Ireland fell from 52 per cent to 41 per cent, as spending per head rose 34 per cent to pounds 4,191 in Ulster.

But the Treasury provided no explanation as to what lay behind the shift in spending, let alone whether it was deliberate.

Public Expenditure Analyses to 1995-96; Cm2219; HMSO; pounds 19.50.