Headlines: December 8th, 2005

Spending on education and health has grown faster in England than in the rest of the United Kingdom since devolution, according to figures published today by the northern office of the Institute for Public Policy Research and the Economic and Social Research Council. The report on the impact of devolution on public policy spending shows that England has eroded the traditional spending advantage Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have enjoyed in the past.”Devolution in Practice 2006: public policy differences within the UK” provides detailed analysis on the choices made by the constituent parts of the UK for the first time and highlights key differences in spending priorities. The research has found that the devolved administrations have supported greater increases in expenditure in areas such as culture and agriculture.

In detail the study reveals that in the period between 1999-2000 and 2004-2005, spending on education and training has grown by 56% in England, from 695 pounds per head to 1,086 pounds per head. In Wales it has grown by 47 per cent to 1,107 per person. Scotland’s spending grew by 38 per cent to reach 1,179 pounds and in Northern Ireland the increase was 43 per cent, taking spending per head to 1,435 pounds – the highest in the UK. There are similar figures for health spending, which has grown to 1,350 pounds a head in England, an increase of 65 per cent since devolution. The Welsh figure is up by 55 per cent while the rate of growth in both Scotland and Northern Ireland is 57 per cent, leaving the Scottish figure of 1,563 per person as the highest in the UK.

The report says divergence over spending priorities must not lead to unacceptable differences in standards. It says public attitude surveys show that while people support the idea of more power for devolved administrations they also strongly favour common standards of public services across the UK.

Katie Schmuecker, ippr north researcher and co-editor of the study said it showed that in spite of assumptions that Scotland and Wales had introduced high spending policies in health and education, such as over tuition fees or teacher’s salaries, England had seen the greatest growth in spending in those areas. “If this exacerbates differences in standards of public services it would pose a big challenge for decision-makers across the UK as the public want to see common standards in key public services,” she added.