Archive for April, 2010

Public Spending Presentation

April 30, 2010

These are the slides I made for a brief presentation on the openness of public spending data:



Roundup of what I know about public spending.

April 30, 2010

This is a roundup of where I’ve got, so far, with my quest to find out more about UK public spending. I’d appreciate help and advice on every line of enquiry I mention here.

I’m interested in tracing records of spending as they pass from one department to another, so I’ll list my finding for each department I’ve looked into.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)

I’d like to know how our tax records are stored, but so far I’ve only got this very very sketchy description. That reply does give some good clues about how National Insurance tax is stored in the statement:

For example the collection of National Insurance is supported by the National Insurance and PAYE system (NPS). This is a substantial build on what was previously known as the National Insurance Recording system (NIRS) to add on the PAYE business processes given the close interaction between the collection of PAYE tax and national Insurance. It has its own underlying database with customer information, but links to other databases within HMRC and in DWP to ensure that customer data is treated consistently throughout both departments.

Another thing we know about how our tax records are stored is that most of HMRC is outsourced and the contract for this outsourcing is not public yet. We know the contract is called ‘the Aspire contract‘, and we have some background reading to do on it.

HM Treasury (HMT)

There is a project within the Treasury called ‘The Whole of Government Accounts‘, which aims to “consolidate the accounts of about 1300 bodies from within the central government, health service, local government and public corporation sectors.” A database called the Combined Online INformation System (COINS) was developed to make this consolidation of accounts possible or easier or both. The Whole of Government Accounts has yet to report its work.

When I first started looking at the COINS system there was very little public about how detailed the spending records are. As you can see from this blog post, we’ve got a pretty good understanding of the data in COINS. Here’s a snapshot from a presentation I made, it shows the information about COINS that is now public:

We are now working to get:

The Office of National Statistics (ONS)

I know of two databases that store spending data in the ONS:

  • The CSDB (central shared database) does not use an ORACLE database.
  • The CORD system (Centralised ONS Repository of Data) used for some parts of the annual production process in ELS does use an ORACLE database. I have the schema for this one.

As well as these two databases, I’ve been told the ONS gets a copy of the COINS data for it’s reports and I’ve had a request for the COINS data sent to the ONS rejected.

Other Departmental Accounts

I was told by my contacts at HMT that each government department has it’s own record of accounts. I’ve been investigating how the Department for Work and Pensions store their accounts, the next step is to request the data.

Local Spending

I’ve got the schema for the Oracle database Cambridge County Council use to store their accounts. The next step is to ask for the data or a sample of it.

In The Begining There Were Mystery Boxes

April 22, 2010

The guy who created LOST, the TV show, gave a great TED talk. It was all about how he likes ‘mystery boxes’.

He started off  by describing these magic mystery boxes he liked as a kid and then he realised his TV shows and films are filled with mystery boxes. Not literally, but that the plot and characters are like mystery boxes: you don’t know what they are about until the end. The rest of the time is a big tease about what might be.

The guy, no, lets say his real name, JJ Abrams, says:

So there’s this thing with mystery boxes that I started feeling, like, compelled. Then there’s the thing of, like, mystery in terms of imagination — the withholding of information. You know, doing that intentionally is much more engaging.

If you like the idea of magical mystery boxes then you’re going to like this.

I’ve been looking at where our tax money is spent. I know that sounds completely unrelated to cool TV shows and popular films, but this research has been all about the tease of what might be in the mystery boxes of the British government’s spending records.

The plan for this blog is to show the government spending boxes, share the questions I asked about them, the replies I get and in the end, all being well, all will be revealed.

This is the rough picture of public spending databases I’ve gathered so far, as part of my work as a researcher at ‘Where Does My Money Go?’ (click on the image to see the full picture).

UPDATE: I’ve written a version of this blog post for the Open Knowledge Foundation Blog here.