Last updated – 06 June 2018


Local authorities meet the costs of their statutory and discretionary services through a combination of revenue and capital expenditure. Revenue spending covers day-to-day costs such as wages. Capital expenditure relates to investments in assets such as buildings and transport infrastructure.

The interactive visualisation below describes changes in capital expenditure and resourcing since 2010-11 for individual local authorities using information published by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

You can use it to explore the broad trends identified by our report Financial sustainability of local authorities: capital expenditure and resourcing and build a richer understanding of what they mean for different authorities.

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How to use this visualisation

All the graphics are interactive:

  • Hovering over the maps and charts gives you more detailed information.
  • If you click on a council on the map, or the name of a council on the list, the data presented will be for that council only.
  • Clicking on a category in any of the charts will show only information category applies to. For example, if you select 2014-15 in one chart then the other charts will show information for 2014-15 as well.

To go back to where you started you can either click:

  • The category you used as a filter
  • Reset in the bottom left corner, or
  • Undo at the top of the screen.

Hold ‘Ctrl’ (Apple ⌘) to select multiple items and compare.

Capital spending, and borrowing, vary between individual authorities. This is because they reflect the particular services each authority provides and the distinctive nature of their local economies. For example, local authorities that own social housing tend to have larger asset bases and higher capital spending than others. Likewise some authorities are responsible for assets like markets or historic buildings that attract visitors and contribute to economic wellbeing.

For these reasons, comparisons between places need to be undertaken with caution. Any apparent differences between places are an opportunity to gather more information and build a richer understanding. The complexity of factors underlying the data means that differences in figures presented here should not be viewed as indicative in any way of the current ‘performance’ of an authority. For instance, the level of spending or borrowing in an authority are likely to be the outcome of a wide range of different local factors and decisions some of which may date back decades.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Where does this data come from?

The visualisation presents data for the 353 single tier, district and county councils in England, using data from 3 collections published by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). These are:

In addition it includes population information from the mid-year estimates of population for 2013, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and GDP deflators published by HM Treasury for March 2016 (Quarterly National Accounts).

Why has the NAO published this data?

The visualisation is published under the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014. This provides powers to the Comptroller and Auditor General to examine the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which local authorities use their resources in discharging their functions. The purpose is to provide evaluation, commentary and advice of a general nature.

Is this data the same as that published by Department for Communities and Local Government?

We have tried to wherever possible to use data published by the Department for Community and Local Government (DCLG), with the following exceptions:

  • We converted some DCLG data to 2014-15 prices using the GDP deflators. All converted data is labelled ‘£2014-15 prices’.
  • We omitted data for Education from trends in revenue and capital spending and omitted data about the value of Education land and buildings from asset data.
  • We omitted data for Public Health, Police, Fire and Rescue and for Other services from trends in revenue and capital spending. We included these services in data about assets and borrowing.
  • We omitted data for City of London from trends in about which types of bodies authorities use for their borrowing and investments, and
  • Charts on external and internal borrowing omit data for 4 authorities because one or more of the data values required to calculate internal borrowing was missing.

We have tried wherever possible to use data contained in the report but have made 3 exceptions because adjustments made in the report would make it harder for authorities to recognise their data. These are:

  • Change in capital spend for housing – the data in the report was adjusted to exclude housing capital expenditure for those local authorities that ceased to have a Housing Revenue Account in or after 2010-11. The data in the visualisation has not been adjusted.
  • Change in revenue spend for children’s social care – the data in the report includes an adjustment to revenue spending on children’s social care in 2014-15 to reflect the change in the recording of spending on services for young people. The data in the visualisation has not been adjusted, and
  • Change in debt servicing costs as a percentage of revenue – the data in the report compares changes in debt servicing costs using two year averages. The data in the visualisation shows debt serving costs for single years.

Where results from the visualisation differ to those contained in the report, we would recommend that the figures from the report are used.

Can I compare the results between local authorities?

All local authorities follow the same guidance when calculating their capital and revenue data and the United Kingdom Statistics Authority has designated the statistics as National Statistics, in accordance with the Statistics and Registration Service Act. The guidance allows a degree of freedom to classify their data in a way that best reflects their local situation at the time their data was calculated.

The complexity of factors underlying the data means that differences in figures presented here should not be viewed as indicative in any way of the current ‘performance’ of an authority. There are also very good reasons why results for an authority may differ from those of others of the same type or in the same part of the country. For example:

  • Local authorities that own social housing typically have larger asset bases and spend more than those that do not own social housing. In the same way authorities that provide Fire services may have higher borrowing or asset bases than authorities of the same type that are not responsible for Fire services.
  • Some authorities act as ‘accountable bodies’ for other organisations and their capital spending will include spending on behalf of those other organisations.
  • Some local authorities have large commercial holdings which generate income to support revenue spending. These investments can be seen in their capital spending and assets but they are not shown explicitly in information about revenue spending, and
  • Some authorities have been granted ‘capitalisations by direction’ in the past by the Department. These allow authorities to use capital resources, such as external borrowing, to help address specific revenue challenges, such as equal pay settlements.

For these reasons, comparisons between areas should be undertaken with caution, and the figures for individual places should not be interpreted as a measure of ‘performance’ of the authority.

Can I compare the results between years?

Readers need to be aware that a number of changes how local authorities operate and how spending is recorded will have an effect on their results. These include:

  • Under the Housing Revenue Account Determination (Link) most local authorities with housing were required to make payments to the Secretary of State in 2011-12 totalling approximately £13bn. In most cases their borrowing increased. Some authorities with housing received payments from the Secretary of State totalling approximately £7bn. In most cases this was used to repay existing borrowing.
  • Since 2010-11 a number of local authorities with housing have transferred their stock to another landlord. As a result they have reduced their asset base and are no longer responsible for maintaining these assets.
  • In 2012-13 local authorities had the opportunity to record the value of heritage assets in their portfolio of non-operational assets. This change in recording has the effect of making the value of assets, an non-operational assets, look higher in 2012-13 than in earlier years, and
  • In 2014-15 revenue spending on children’s social care includes spending on targeted and universal services for young people. In earlier years this spending was recorded as part of education services. The change means spending on children’s social care may appear to be higher in 2014-15 than in earlier years.

There are also changes in how individual authorities operate and how they calculate their capital and revenue spending. For example asset values reflect the net book value of assets these will change as a result of ongoing review as well as changes in local authority portfolios. As a result changes in the value of assets from one year to the next will not be due entirely to acquisitions or disposals.

What are debt servicing costs?

Debt servicing costs are calculated using data from the revenue outturn data calculated by local authorities and published by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). The main elements are interest payable on external debt, and the provision for repayment of principal – often known as the minimum repayment provision (MRP). MRP is an amount that must be set aside to cover the principal of any debt on maturity loans. Maturity loans mean that authorities pay interest each year but do not repay any principal until the end of the loan period. The purpose behind MRP is to make authorities ‘save up’ sufficient capital during the loan period to repay at the end of the loan.

The calculation of debt servicing costs captures the cost associated with debts associated with all the services each local authority provides. As a result it will include debt servicing costs associated with Education, Fire and Police for the local authorities that provide those services. The precise measure for debt servicing costs is based on the sum of the following items:

  • RS Line 773 Provision for repayment of principal
  • RS Line 776 Leasing payments
  • RS Line 781 Interest payable and similar charges
  • RS Line 783 Interest: HRA item 8 payments and receipts, and
  • RS Line 788 Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes – difference from service charge.

RS Line 783 is typically income to the General Fund Revenue Account and therefore it tends to reduce the debt servicing cost.

A small number of local authorities have a negative debt servicing cost in one or more years. These authorities appear on the left hand side of the bar chart. If you click on one of these you will see their debt servicing cost as a percentage of revenue.

Debt serving cost as percentage of revenue expenditure is calculated as the debt servicing cost divided by a measure of revenue expenditure that takes account of certain specific grants paid to local authorities. Specifically, we removed ring fenced funding and funding passed directly to schools.

  • RG Line 102 Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG)
  • RG Line 103 Pupil Premium Grant
  • RG Line 106 Education Services Grant
  • RG Line 313 Public Health Grant
  • RG Line 104 London Pay Addition (2010-11)
  • RG line 141 School Standards Grant (including Personalisation) (2010-11)
  • RG Line 145 Standards Fund (excluding elements now in ABG) (2010-11), and
  • RG Line 154 Diploma Specific Formula Grant.

What is internal borrowing?

Internal borrowing is a treasury management practice whereby an authority delays the need to borrow externally by temporarily using cash it holds for other purposes, such as insurance funds held in earmarked reserves. This allows the authority to avoid paying interest costs until the original expenditure planned for the ‘borrowed’ cash falls due. Our estimated figure of gross internal borrowing is a cumulative measure of the potential liabilities from this form of financing at any point in time.

While there is an expectation that internal borrowing needs to be repaid, it does not represent a formal debt which necessarily needs to be settled in full in the same way as external borrowing. For instance, authorities may decide the original activity intended for the cash is no longer needed, or can be delivered at a lower cost. Our figures therefore should be seen as illustrative of the scale of internal borrowing, rather than as necessarily representing the full scale of any associated liabilities.

We calculate internal borrowing in cash terms using data from the Department’s COR4 data set as the cumulative capital financing requirement minus the sum of external borrowing and other long term liabilities.

Given that our figures for internal borrowing are illustrative estimates of potential liabilities we present them by local authority type and do not show data for individual authorities.

Why do borrowing and investment data from the Capital Outturn returns and the Borrowing and Lending Inquiry not agree?

Although the two sets of data use very similar definitions of borrowing and investments, they are completed at different times and relate to slightly different dates. For example, data from the Borrowing and Lending Inquiry shows the position on the last day of the financial year and is typically returned by local authorities within a week. The Capital Outturn data presented here shows the position on the first day of the financial year and is typically returned by local authorities three months after the end of the year.

How can I get an accessible version of this visualisation?

Phone the NAO Enquiries point +44 (0)20 7798 7264

Alternatively, you can email general enquiries to or use our online contact form.

My question is not answered here, where can I get more information?

Phone the NAO Enquiries point +44 (0)20 7798 7264

Alternatively, you can email general enquiries to or use our online contact form.

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