David Phillips IFS

@TheIFS - The UK Government is spending big on supporting public services and the economy through the COVID-19 recovery and beyond. There are, for example, ‘up to £30 billion pounds’ of measures counted in the ‘Plan for Jobs’ announced in the Summer Economic Update last week, although the OBR thinks they will ultimately cost around £20 billion.

However, alongside this – but with much less fanfare – are reductions in spending on other things as some previously planned projects and investments are now deemed less of a priority or infeasible given the COVID-19 crisis. The Treasury’s decisions on funding for the devolved governments suggest they expect these underspends to amount to almost £8 billion; the OBR expects more like £10 billion.

A lack of transparency over where spending is expected to be lower is contributing to confusion about the overall scale of fiscal support being provided, as well as the amount that the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should receive to fund their own measures. It makes scrutiny of plans more difficult and is corrosive to trust. While governments of all stripes will, of course, want to follow the adage of ‘repetition, repetition, repetition’ when it comes to highlighting the goodies they are funding, official policy documents should also be clear about when and where spending is expected to be lower than previously planned too.

A multi-billion pound ‘Plan for Jobs’ - but the Treasury now expects to spend £8 billion less on other investments this year

Reading A Plan for Jobs it is not clear that, for example, the £2 billion Green Homes Grant scheme for England is funded from within pre-existing spending limits. Nor is it clear that almost half of the £400 million or so of cash for traineeships, apprenticeships, school leavers and careers advice in England is funded by reallocating funding within existing spending envelopes. This begs the question of what the government is now planning to spend less on than it previously was.

The government has been clearer that the £5.5 billion infrastructure package represents an acceleration of previously planned investments. But as with the aforementioned policies it seems to be funded by newly anticipated underspends on other capital projects rather than an increase in overall investment spending this year. This is why the devolved governments have been informed they will not receive additional funding as a result of this package: if it was an increase in overall investment spending in the current financial year, they would do so.

Taken together, this means of the ‘up to £30 billion’ Plan for Jobs, the Treasury has assumed that almost £8 billion is money that it had previously budgeted to spend, albeit on other things. And the OBR thinks such underspends could pay for an even bigger share (£10 billion) of the smaller amount (£20 billion) they think the plan will cost, according to the central projections of spending in its new Fiscal Sustainability Report.

It can make sense to re-prioritise and re-profile spending in this way: some of the spending originally planned may no longer represent value-for-money or could even be infeasible, for example. But it’s important to make clear what is being cancelled or postponed so that other politicians, the media and public can scrutinise these decisions. And to be clear where previously planned spending is now not expected to occur in order to avoid confusion about just how big a fiscal stimulus is being provided.

Unnecessary confusion over funding for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

I, myself, have been confused by this lack of transparency. When asked whether the Scottish Government would receive just £21 million as a result of the Plan for Jobs as the Scottish Finance Minister has claimed, I said that I couldn’t see how you would arrive at such a number given the schemes just mentioned, as well as the stamp duty holiday for England and Northern Ireland. It would get much more.

In a big picture sense, this is correct: the Scottish Government will get far more than £21 million. Because stamp duty is devolved to Scotland it will get much more than that to enable it to enact its own tax holiday or spend on other measures. Exactly how much is not yet clear – it will depend on updated forecasts and ultimately outturns for stamp duty revenues in England and Northern Ireland. But initial estimates published by the OBR this week suggest it could amount to around £120 million spread over this year and next. And the Scottish Government has already said it will use the cash it receives to temporarily raise the threshold of its equivalent tax to £250,000 and provide £50 million in extra support to first time buyers.

But the Scottish Government won’t, as I initially presumed, get extra funding as a result of the Green Homes Grant or the full £40 million it would if all of the money for traineeships and so on were new. Instead, apart from the stamp duty money, it will receive £21 million – the figure quoted by the Scottish Finance Minister – as a result of the combination of the ‘Plan for Jobs’ and the reductions in investment spending elsewhere that the Treasury is now expecting.

Of course, Scotland as a nation will receive much more – UK-wide measures like the Job Retention Bonus, Kickstart Scheme and VAT cut could amount to around £1 billion of genuinely new money for Scottish businesses, jobseekers and consumers. And the Scottish Government itself will receive over £700 million as a result of other funding confirmed in the Summer Economic Update – mainly as a result of extra spending on public services in England such as the NHS.

Add that to the £21 million and you get the £800 million the UK government says the Scottish Government received as a result of all the spending confirmed last week. Although, as with the Scottish Government’s figures, it is worth noting that this excludes the additional funding as a result of the stamp duty holiday, which mean the final overall figure will probably be nearer £900 million.  

More transparency please!

It is notable that the Scottish and Welsh governments have already published budget amendments formally setting out updated spending plans as of 27 May which highlight not only new spending but where cuts have been made to free up funding. Further updates in the Autumn and Winter are planned. The UK government should follow this more transparent approach, and ensure official policy statements are clearer about what is and isn’t new money. For example, they could easily have asked the OBR to sign-off the costings in the ‘Plan for Jobs’ even if they didn’t want to make this a full Budget.

The Government should also publish an updated Block Grant Transparency Report, setting out clearly how much extra funding the devolved governments are receiving and how this is calculated. The Treasury hasn’t published one of these reports since 2018, which makes understanding the increasingly complex funding arrangements of the devolved governments harder than it needs to be. An updated report would also provide clarity over how much genuinely new money is being allocated to England – as projects funded by reallocating funding do not lead to changes in the block grants.

Unfortunately, as it stands, a lack of illumination leaves significant scope for misunderstanding and even misrepresentation of the UK government’s plans. So, can the UK government please turn on the lights?

David Phillips, Associate Director, IFS (The Institute for Fiscal Studies)

This article was first published on the IFS website on the 16th July 2020

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

Trust is very powerful, as the article suggests. The question is, how to develop trust in a work...

AELP Webinar Team added a new event 8 hours

Flexi-jobs, ATAS and Apprenticeships

Overview Following recent consultations by the Department for Education, a new flexi-jobs apprenticeship scheme will be piloted from July 2021....

  • Thursday, 03 June 2021 10:00 AM
  • Online

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page