This is the first of a series of post looking at the data challenges for the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Where Does My Money Go project, for which I’m helping to gather and analyze data.

I got involved in the project because I wanted to know how much money the Department of Energy spends on different energy sources, to whom this money went and how this has changed over time.

However, I quickly discovered that answering questions like these, at least in the first instance, is difficult. A simple search on the web won’t magically turn up your data and once you start digging deeper — for example by looking around departmental websites — it is hard to know where to look and what all the different categories of spending are and what the accounting terms mean or even to know if the data you are looking for exists!

Given this, it is natural to start higher ‘up the tree’ when exploring “where your money goes”. Starting at, or the near, the top we can then drill down, with one level of data (we hope) leading to the next. Moreover, this is probably the approach that makes it easiest for the average citizen to get into the data — and for building the visualizations to help present this sort of complex information in an easy-to-understand way.

So where does one begin? What is the spending at the very top level? The simple answer to these questions for the UK is:

Public Expenditure Statistical Analysis (PESA)

Public Expenditure Statistical Analysis (PESA) is the highest level breakdown of Government spending (both past and planned) and is what is underpins the UK Budget. It provides both department breakdowns (key for financial planning) as well as detailing spending using a standard classifications of functions of government (COFOG) which provides comparability across EU countries. Some, though not all of these, are then broken down by time and by region. For example:

  • Table 5.1 shows government department spending broken down by COFOG function. The rest of the tables in section five are COFOG functions by time.

  • Table 7.2 is government department broken down into basic spending categories and given over time, that is the last six years.

  • Table 9.16 is, like table 5.1, broken down by COFOG function, but this time, instead of government department the spending by function is split into geographical region of the UK.

But why not have a look yourself! To facilitate collaboration on analysis, assisted by some more volunteers, we uploaded the whole of PESA to Google Docs, also creating a PESA Summary listing all the tables (with links), details of their contents and a rating for how “interesting”. All the spreadsheets have been shared to make it easy for people to dive straight in and help out.

Unfortunately PESA, goes only so far. In particular it provides very limited drill-down with spending only broken down to departmental or high-level functions. To go beyond this we need to find other sources of data. This will form the subject of my next post.

If you would like to help with this project — we do have lots of interesting data to work with! — then please leave a comment or get in touch with me directly at lisa [dot] evans [at] okfn [dot] org.

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