Three new tools launched to track spending in the UK
We kicked off this project in July 2019 and we've been listening since then. Our strongest direction came from the open workshop we held in August 2019.
The first feedback
The workshop taught us that definitions of funding for local growth vary substantially between people and interest groups. We also found that few people knew where to find, how to access, and how to explore the existing data on government funding.
While listening to potential users we decided that we could most usefully build tools to help people understand what money was being spent on local growth, however they choose to define it.
We have since written, released, and improved code that extracts data in many different formats from dozens of official sources and combines it into single datasets and usable online tools. By releasing our work during development and working with our partners and potential users throughout we have found problems, fixed them, and improved our data and our tools. Perhaps most importantly we've collected long lists of links to data and explanations on government spending both in the UK and across Europe.
General Election 2019
We also got lucky, because lots more people started to discuss what funding for local growth means to them. This was partly because the General Election in 2019 delivered a significant majority to a Conservative government that promised to level up the country. The intended mechanism to do this is in part by investing in local growth, though the details of what investment it thinks might generate local growth remain unclear.
Defining investment for local growth
Recent think-tank reports such as "Levelling up: Rebalancing growth-enhancing spending" by Onward have given one view, arguing that transport (especially capital spending), housing, culture, and innovation (R&D) spending are the levers that a government should pull in order to boost growth and level up currently weaker economies.
Their work required days of working with multiple spreadsheets from the Treasury to assemble a single dataset for their analysis. Our tool can verify their assertions within minutes, and extend it to other geographies in seconds.
Another view can be seen in "State of the North 2018: Reprioritising the Northern Powerhouse" which focuses on transport, skills, and culture spending. Again, we can quickly reproduce much of their data.
Throughout this project we have heard that people want to know what the EU has funded and where. This is mostly so that they can assess any claimed replacement of EU funding by the UK government. So we have built a tool that shows the amount that the EU has spent in any or all years since 1986 by region.
There are many more ways to explore the data. This is a first release which we can rapidly improve as we get feedback and as others contribute. The hardest work, finding the data and putting it to work, is already done.
Well be following the UK's budget on Wednesday to see what spending is announced, and to try and understand the scale of it with respect to past spending by both UK governments and the EU. Wed love it if you used our tools and our data to do the same, and let us know how you got on.