What Role, If Any, Does Spending Data Have to Play in Local Council Budget Consultations?

It seems to be that time of year when my local council is consulting about next year’s budgets, running a series of roadshows (which I missed) backed up by an online consultation (but no briefing or discussion documents?)

The online consultation opens with asking for opinions about the extent to which the council should support various services:

Adult Social Care, Asset & Estates Management, Bereavement Services, Central Support Services (Legal, Finance, ICT, Human Resources, Shared Services, Corporate & Democratic Core), Childrens Social Care, Coastal Management, Community Safety, Concessionary Fares, Coroner, Cowes Chain Ferry, Culture & Heritage, Economic Development, Education Psychology/Special Education Needs, Education Welfare Service, Elections & Land Charges, Environmental Health, Licensing, Trading Standards, Fire & Rescue, Harbours, Highways, Housing, Leisure & Recreation, Libraries, Parking Services, PFI Contract, Planning & Building Control, Public Conveniences, Public Health, Registrars, Revenues & Benefits, Schools Infrastructure/buildings, School Music Service, School Transport, Sports & Play Development, Subsidised Buses, Tourism, Waste Management, Workforce Development, Youth Service

The council also publishes a Budget Book which identifies intended savings in three directorate areas (Economy & Environment, Community Wellbeing & Social Care, Schools & Learning).

Budgets are allocated in different service areas according to the Service Reporting Code of Practice for Local Authorities (SeRCOP):

IW revenue budget summary 2013-14

The Revenue Budget Service Analysis breaks things down further within each service area:

Adult social care

IW council adult social care 2013-14

Central Services and Capital Costs

IW council central services and corporate costs 2013-14

Childrens Social Care

IW council childrens social coare 2013-14


Iw council education 2013-14

Cultural and related services

iw cultural and related services

Environmental Services

IW environmental services

Planning and development services

IW planning and development services

Fire and Rescue Services

IW fire and rescue services

Highways and Transport Services

IW highways and transport services

Housing Services

Iw housing services 2013-14

Local spending data

Naive as I am, I started wondering about the extent to which we might be able to map spending items released through the council’s Spending and Finance (Transparency) data releases.

So for example, if we know a service area has a particular annual budget, and we also get to see certain declarations of spend within that are (maybe reconciled to contracts and other procurement information), then we might start to be able to pull together a picture about the range of activities associated with the service area based on the trace shadows those activities throw off in the form of spending items.

If a budget cut is proposed to a service area, and it applies proportionally to the spend, or to particular areas of the spend, we might start to get a feeling about what the practical consequences of the cut might actually be.

So that’s the proposition – but how far can we get when we look at the spending data itself?

Reviewing the spending data to date for the 2013-14 financial year, we see spend associated with the following directorates:

  • Childrens Services
  • Community Wellbeing & Social Care
  • Corporate
  • Economy & Environment
  • Resources
  • Chief Executive, Schools & Learning

It’s not necessarily immediately obvious how these map on to the services listed in the budget book (for example, is Childrens Social Care in Childrens Services or Community Wellbeing & Social Care?

The spending data released by the Isle of Wight Council also has two other relevant columns: the Service Area and the Expenses Type. Unfortunately, the Service Area descriptions seem to be rather ad hoc, and whilst the Expense Area terms may follow some standard vocabulary, it’s not obvious which, or how these terms are associated with particular summary spending areas that appear in the budget book.


As a very quick example of the sort of thing we can start to look for, here is an example of spends associated with the keyword music appearing in the spending Service Area:

iw music spend

The School Music Service is one of the areas the council consultation asked about, so if there is to be a cut to the funding of this service that impacts on spend, we might get a feel for what levels of savings are possible on transparently declared spend in that area:

school Music service

So responsibility for the service changed directorate in July?

Here’s the overall cumulative spend:

school music service2

So the transparently declared spend isn’t that much (the majority of spend – not declared in the spending data – is presumably on salaries?), and what there is declared is mainly on travel. As armchair auditors or budget consultees, I guess this provides us with the question: is just over £10k on staff vehicle mileage over the last 6 months a large amount?

We could possibly also get an estimate of the amount of mileage involved (Isle of Wight council mileage rates). As a lower bound on the mileage, if it was all charged at the highest rate (65p per mile) and all the Staff Vehicle mileage was on miles at that rate, it would come to 10490.62 * 100 / 65.0, or just over 16,100 miles; that is, slightly over 2,500 miles per month, or 100 miles per working day.

But again: is this a large number? When you consider that the School Music Service provides “weekly instrumental and vocal tuition” to “some 3,000 pupils a week in 49 primary, secondary and special schools … from a team of 24 qualified and experienced staff” (via about the School Music Service), it doesn’t seem so much?

(I am mindful that doing such exercises can lead to hatchet jobs around small amounts of money on particular public services, and am quite wary of giving examples as a result… What I do hope to show, though, is how this sort of data investigation does do can encourage you to go looking for other sources of data to help make sense of, and further put into context, the data you do have…)


In terms of adult social care, services provided to “older’ people (presumably, 65 and over) appear to be identified in the budget book headings as one coherent group. So what affect might budget cuts in this area have on spending, based on spending items that might be associated with this area?

If we search for mention of the key term elderly, here’s what we get in accumulated spend to date:

                                           Service.Area     sumTot
                   Elderly Mentally Ill Residential Care 3511701.13
                                  Elderly Frail Homecare 2084136.78
                             Elderly Residential Daycare 1725826.30
                            Elderly Frail Nursing Island 1579067.00
                          Elderly Frail Residential Care 1169120.25
                        Elderly Frail Residential Income 1116792.64
                          Elderly Frail Nursing - Island  669237.95
                     Elderly Mentally Ill Nursing Island  558575.44
                          Elderly Frail Managed Accounts  230445.28
                     Elderly Mental Ill Nursing - Island  216668.02
                           Elderly Mentally Ill Homecare  154026.30
                          Elderly Frail Nursing Mainland   33553.91
                                   Elderly Frail Daycare   23377.70
                   Elderly Mentally Ill Nursing Mainland   11761.68
                   Elderly Mental Ill Nursing - Mainland   10243.80
                   Elderly Mentally Ill Managed Accounts    9257.41
                            Elderly Mentally Ill Daycare    4549.10
                        Elderly Frail Nursing - Mainland    4515.84
                                Elderly Frail Other Care    2711.83
                         Elderly Mentally Ill Other Care    2550.16
                          Elderly Frail Personal Budgets    1900.64
                       Elderly Frail Community Equipment     924.39
                   Elderly Mentally Ill Personal Budgets     625.24
                            Elderly Frail Non-Res Income     171.15
   Elderly Frail - Day/Other care - Client Contributions      36.50
                     Elderly Mentally Ill Nursing Income   -1510.32
                            Elderly Frail Nursing Income   -2371.82

And here are the main suppliers:

                               Supplier.Name    sumTot
                       ISLAND HEALTHCARE LTD 891433.32
                      REDACTED PERSONAL DATA 836757.77
                         SCIO HEALTHCARE LTD 685499.04
                           SOMERSET CARE LTD 616713.96
               LONDON RESIDENTIAL HEALTHCARE 517033.27

We can also get a feel for what the expense types are:

                       Expenses.Type      sumTot
  Charges from Independent Providers 13504438.81
                Regular Respite Care   214573.11
           Crisis Support for Carers    17951.37
                    Fixed Telephones      924.39
                Professional Service      356.04
               Operational Equipment       36.50
                     Client Expenses       11.83
                Client Contributions    -1185.83
                    Provider Refunds  -619211.92

With many challenges facing the provision of homecare more generally, how is funding allocated in service areas containing the keyterm homecare?

                                Service.Area     sumTot
                      Elderly Frail Homecare 2084136.78
                Physical Disability Homecare  395358.15
               Elderly Mentally Ill Homecare  154026.30
                Learning Disability Homecare  123971.95
              Learning Disabilities Homecare  120884.88
                      Mental Health Homecare  117730.46
                           Dementia Homecare   28467.84
                         Homecare Reablement   20892.01
                    Homecare 18-25 year olds   12519.84
   Children Young Adults Disability Homecare    2962.08


As I mentioned, I didn’t get to go to any of the budget consultation roadshows. But I do wonder whether we can make use of spending data to help us get a feel for some of the services that budgets deliver via spend with third parties. For example, can we use such information as a view on to how cuts to budgets might play out in terms of spending cuts associated with the withdrawal or reduction of corresponding services?

In order to relate spend to budget items described in the budget book, I think there is still some way to go though. What we need is another column in the spending data that relates to headings described in the budget book. (Even better might be columns relating to SerCOP codes?)

PS Hmm, I wonder… is this the sort of topic that could make for an interesting School of Data style community based data expedition? And waht role might the Isle of Wight Armchair Auditor or OpenSpending play in such a thing?

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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