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COINS: A Users Guide

At 0930 BST today the UK government released the COINS database, one of the biggest sources of information on UK public spending. Open Knowledge Foundation Director Rufus Pollock says:

> The release of this data marks another milestone in the opening up of public data – in which the UK leads the way. While this is by no means the end of the line, this material is substantially more detailed than anything previously available and is a major advance for transparency of public finances.With our Where Does My Money Go? project we’ve already been working to make spending understandable to the general public and this new data is essential to realizing the project’s goal of showing exactly where each pound of your taxes goes.

**Update: for latest info see **

Lets be honest — it’s basically mystery how our tax money is spent. Like all good mysteries it’s compelling to find the truth behind it.

The publication of the COINS database today will a big step forward in resolving this mystery. COINS, which stands for the Combined Online Information System, is the main database used by HM Treasury for budgeting — and reconciling what actually happened against those budget plans.

Public bodies have a requirement to report their spending to COINS. Each local government body, and this includes all councils (except parish), all local police, local fire, local transport and park authorities, report all items of spending over £1million once a year. The record of this spending is gathered by Communities and Local Government (CLG) and audited before it is entered into COINS as spending from CLG.

Similarly, each central government department has to report spending on all items over £1 million and agreements over £5 million and that they define this spending use their own spending codes for this. Some of these items are well defined in COINS — others less so.

Each of these bodies provide not only their spending once a year, but also estimates of their spending for the year ahead, once a month for every item of spending.

With the publication of COINS we can now see, for the first time all in one place, the spending and estimates for all of these public bodies.

But bringing this all together has a slight problem — there’s lots of accounting jargon that we can cut through here, to understand the great significance and value of this publication.

COINS: A User Guide

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COINS is a big listing of estimated or actual entries of money.

Each entry in the listing involves a named goverment department’s money.

Some of the entries show a department has bought something like a service or a product. Other entries show a department has recieved some money.

Key features:

  • Programme objects and Programme object groups: each department creates Programme Objects to which spendings is assigned.
  • Account types (SCOA = Standard Chart of Government Accounts): standard “accounting-like” classifications of spending. Details of how the money is recieved or spent, so you can choose all spending on Wages & salaries or Current Grants to private sector.
  • CPID: If money is exchanged between government departments we have a record of which departments were involved. The Counter-party Identifier (CPID) in the entry line is the description of the other department.
  • Data type: Each of the monthly and yearly budgeting exercises can be identified with the Data Type category. Examples of these are Forecast Outturn March, Forecast Outturn April etc.

The release of the COINs data is a huge step forward for transparency in the UK. We hope that the release of the data will lead to much better public understanding of how public funds are being spent. We’ve been very keen to get hold of the COINS data for our Where Does My Money Go? project and our team are already on the case, working to create intuitive visual representations of the data. If you’d like to follow our progress, you can find us at wheredoesmymoneygo.org or on Twitter at @wdmmg!

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