Thursday, April 8, 2021

The government sector in the institutional sector accounts

The CSO will publish the 2020 Government Finance Statistics (GFS) in the next few weeks but we can get a preliminary look at what they will say from the Institutional Sector Accounts (ISAs) that were published last week.

Here’s the government sector current account for the five years to 2020.

Government Sector Current Account 2016-2020

For 2020, the most significant changes were subsidies paid (+€4 billion), social benefits paid (+€6 billion) and consumption expenditure on goods and services (+€5 billion).  All told, these contributed to a €16 billion deterioration in the current account position of the government sector.

One of the remarkable things is that all of these changes were on the expenditure side with revenue holding up.  There was a decline in taxes on products and production.  Taxes on products (such as VAT and Excise Duty) were down €2.5 billion with taxes on productions (such as commercial rates) down just under €1 billion.  Some of this fall was just to reduced activity while some was due to forbearance and payment breaks.

Taxes on income and wealth rose in 2020. This was entirely due to increased Corporation Tax from non-financial corporates which rose another €1 billion but taxes on income from the household sector (Income Tax and USC) were essentially unchanged in 2020.  Social contributions received (mainly PRSI) were also largely unchanged in 2020.

On the spending side some of the other changes were the eight per cent rise in compensation of employees paid by the government sector with this almost reach €25 billion in 2020.  It might be surprising the the GDP of the government sector rose seven per cent in 2020 (schools closed etc.) but in the absence of prices the value added of the government sector is mainly measured by the wages paid.  Finally from the current account, we can also see that the interest bill continued to fall and the interest amount in the sector accounts falling by a further €1 billion in 2020.

There were also limited changes in the capital account.

Government Sector Capital Account 2016-2020

The most significant change here was the further €1.5 billion rise in government gross capital formation in 2020 to reach €9.7 billion.

There was little change in most other items in the current account meaning that the overall change in the government’s non-financial position was a deterioration of €18 billion.  The government sector went from a modest net lending position of €1.5 billion in 2019 to a net borrowing position of €16.5 billion in 2020.

To the extent the the increased spending highlighted in the current account is temporary this deficit will fall as the need for emergency measures falls.  But if some of those represent permanent spending increases, as is likely, some of the deficit will be persistent.  It is that permanent increase in spending rather than any necessity to “pay the COVID bill” that will impact subsequent budgetary plans.

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