The Alan Turing Institute
Accounting for democracy

Our goal is to promote the ability to examine data, to learn to question the legitimacy of its source, and appreciate the context in which numbers are presented. We have chosen the UK Government public expenditure data for demonstration.

Public expenditure is defined by the Financial Times as money spent by the Government on public services and other state-controlled operations, projects and investments. If public expenditure data is easily accessible, we will understand how our money is spent, and question if it was used wisely. In order for the Government to ensure there is good value for money for the taxpayer, there should be maximal transparency of spending purposes. Citizens and organizations with good quality, well presented public expenditure information can ensure that services receiving public money are held fully to account. To begin with, we should be able to rapidly see what is available and then visualize what interests us. When we are able to place sections of public spending in context, we gain an understanding of the entire picture.

The UK data in this demo has been sourced from the Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses (PESA) report. For more information, you can refer to the full document (PDF).

Understanding the structure of the expenditure

Expenditure types can be classified by the purpose of which funds are used. The Classification of the Functions of Government document published by the United Nations provide a common structure that is used in reports produced by all UN members.

Expenditure data here consists of ten services, which are further divided into sub-services. To explore the sub-services, use the dropdown to select a service and see the subservices it consists of.

Exploring and visualizing expenditure

As we saw in the previous section, the expenditure in each service of the government consists of several sub-services. To better understand the government expenditure, we look at some of the services in detail. First, a large portion of government expenditure is spent on "social protection", but how is the money distributed between different sub-services? Second, how much of the overall "education" expenditure is spent on primary, secondary and tertiary education?

This report is created using The Gamma, which makes data visualizations more transparent and so it allows you to easily modify the visualizations and explore other services. To get started, just click "open source code" and change the service you want to see!

One of the interesting trends in the government expenditure has been the growing investment into a service called "economic affairs". According to Eurostat statistical analysis, this includes capital injections into banks (for example in Greece). Expenditure on agriculture and fisheries falls within the EU competency and hence is low for member states. This part of government expenditure has been rising since 2012, but we can get better insight if we look at the individual sub-services.

The data used in the above visualizations come from Chapter 5 "Public sector expenditure by function, sub-function and economic category" of the PESA 2016:

Data on education: Chapter 5 Table 5.2 (XLSX)
Data on economic affairs: Chapter 5 Table 5.4 (XLSX)
Data on social protection: Chapter 5 Table 5.2 (XLSX)

Guessing the expenditure trends

Do you know how is the government expenditure distributed among the different government services? Can you guess how spending changes following pledges made by the government?

Rather than creating a chart showing the answer, we created a number of interactive visualizations inspired by New York Times "You Draw It" series where you have to make a guess before looking at the actual data. As in the previous sections, you can click "open source code" to see the raw data and even create your own challenges.

Expenditure breakdown

First, let's start with the overview of an entire public expenditure. Following the Classification of the Functions of Government, we split the overall expenditure into ten services. Can you guess how much we spent (as a percentage of GDP) on the top six UK public services?

Are you curious about the remaining four services? Click "open source code" and replace take(6) with take(10) in the script.

Data source: PESA 2016 Chapter 4 Table 4.4 (XLSX)

Greenest government ever

In 2010, the Prime Minister David Cameron commited his government to be the greenest government ever. Can you guess the spending trend on Environment Protection services over five years following this announcement?

Are you curious about changes to other services? Click "open source code" and replace 'Environment protection' on the second line with, for example, Defence.

Data source: PESA 2016 Chapter 4 Table 4.2

£600m Extra for science

In 2012, the Chancellor George Osborne pledged extra £600m over three years to the science sector, believing that science and technology are key to economic growth.

Can you guess the trend on capital investment on the Science and Technology sector in the years following his pledge?

Data source: PESA 2016 Chapter 5 Table 5.4

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