Research and Analytics


CIPFA Local Government Comparative Statistics

April 2005

When the publication 'Local Government Comparative Statistics' was first produced in 1981 its aim was to aid the publication of comparative statistics by local authorities. The framework of the publication was constructed on the basis of the requirements of the 'Code of Practice for Local Authority Annual Reports'. The Code recommends that each authority should compile and publish a short list of certain key statistics and indicators, on a standard basis, so as to enable meaningful comparisons to be drawn between similar authorities and over a period of time. In this respect the data contained in this publication provides a useful reference point, providing a selection of financial and non-financial indicators across all areas of local authority provision.

However, since the Code was introduced there have been substantial changes in local authority service management. Measuring the quality of services provided for given expenditure has in fact become more difficult against a background of legislation designed to devolve service management to schools and put care 'into the community'. Services which were once easy to quantify, such as waste collection, are now difficult to monitor as local authorities may be employing private contractors to undertake functions which previously fell under their direct management. Thus, what was once a difficult set of functions to measure is now extremely difficult to gauge in a consistent manner.

Nevertheless, the value of comparing one authority with another, or group of others, continues to be topical and controversial. The difficulty has always been to identify which authorities are most similar. Where two or more authorities may demonstrate similar demographic characteristics they may be very different in geographic, economic and social traits. Local authorities necessarily provide different standards of service and it is often difficult to measure the levels of outputs. Such comparisons merely provide an indication of where further investigation may prove worthwhile. It is then necessary to compare the nature and standard of the service provided by an authority in relation to others and to take account of any local circumstances which might explain a particular deviation. It does not necessarily follow that the highest spender is the least efficient or that the lowest is the most cost effective. Similarly, an indication of performance should not necessarily be considered only in an inter authority context. Comparison between plans and achievements, in particular, may be more appropriate for certain activities.

However, the focus of attention is becoming more specific about the range of service provision. This is an area of increasing importance as local authorities seek to establish standards of service as well as spending levels when making policy decisions.

In conclusion, it must be stressed that the statistics provided in this volume summarise the comparative demands on local authority services and against this the resources which were set aside to provide them. 'Performance' is not something that the figures can reliably quantify, although users of this volume may wish to draw their own inferences subject to the qualifications identified above.


Local Government Comparative Statistics 2004

This, the twenty fourth edition of Local Government Comparative Statistics, contains a selection of comparative financial and other statistics for the financial years 2002-03 and 2003-04, for each authority in England and Wales.

Local Authority Annual Reports

One purpose of this book is to provide data and information to assist in the preparation of the financial and statistical reports of authorities as outlined in the Code of Practice for Local Authority Annual Reports.

The code of practice advocates publication in authorities’ annual reports of ‘a set of key indicators ’ including at least those listed in Annex B. Each authority is asked to publish its own figures for the year covered by the report, and to compare figures for the preceding year with those of other authorities. The code also suggests comparisons of more recent statistics based on estimates. The indicators set out in Local Government Comparative Statistics represent a significant development on the indicators specified in the original code of practice.

The code calls for comparisons with other authorities chosen by the authority as having similar characteristics (not necessarily the same authorities for all services). A comparison with the averages for authorities of the same type, as published nationally, is also specified.

This book provides information covering two successive years:
  • 2002-03 outturn
  • 2003-04 estimates
for use with authorities’ published reports for the financial year 2003-04. It aims to provide readers with:
  • the average value of key service indicators for each class of authority;
  • information about individual authorities;
  • definitions, detailed sources and specifications of the statistics provided.

General Use

The publication is also intended to cater for those who require a ready source of local authority comparative statistics. The written definitions are phrased in terms which should be widely understood, and include detailed references to statistical publications and source documents.

Besides details of total expenditure in successive years, and figures for the indicators specified in the code, some other general and service statistics have been included. However, the scope of local authority activities is restricted to the main services; and at most a few statistics are provided for each.

Since different types of authority have different responsibilities, more information is provided for certain authorities. The summary tables provide a convenient guide for each type of authority. Those requiring further statistical information about local authorities are referred to the numerous other publications of the Statistical Information Service described in Annex C.

Selection of Indicators

It was recognised by the government that the publication of information in annual reports should not impose an undue burden on local authorities, and the final selection of indicators for inclusion in the code was therefore determined on the basis that the information should be readily available.

The core list of key indicators specified in the code was kept relatively short. Because each indicator may measure a number of different aspects of performance the ‘core’ list alone does not necessarily provide a balanced or comprehensive picture of an authority’s achievements and activities.

There is an acknowledged lack of acceptable measures of the output of local authorities. Most of the information that is available measures input and does not, therefore, allow conclusive judgements to be drawn about the quality and effectiveness of the services provided.

In addition the Institute has reservations about the use of per capita comparisons. Particular client groups may represent varying proportions of total population; for example, different authorities have different proportions of school children. This makes comparisons of service provision (for instance the number of teachers) on a per capita basis, rather than on a client group basis (the number of school children), potentially misleading. Where possible, costs per capita have therefore been supplemented with statistics of costs per client or other suitable unit.

Per capita comparisons may also be misleading where a local authority provides a service that benefits residents in more than one area, or temporary visitors. This affects some services more than others. For example, the Corporation of London libraries do not cater solely for City residents.

The Use of Comparative Statistics

The code of practice and the covering government circular drew attention to the difficulties inherent in making comparisons between authorities on the basis of statistics of the kind specified, without the benefit of qualifying or supporting information. Subject to these reservations, comparative statistics may be helpful in drawing attention to differences.
  • In the level or quality of service provision;
  • In the efficiency of use of resources.
However, there are many other causes underlying the variations between authorities. These may include the following differences:
  • social or economic characteristics, e.g. the proportion of the population in a certain age group;
  • division of functions, e.g. planning, which is undertaken to a varying extent by each tier of local government;
  • range of functions adopted, e.g. a municipal airport or bus undertaking;
  • methods of financing capital investment, e.g. leasing, purchasing outright or financing from loan;
  • prices faced by authorities, e.g. regional variations in the cost of provision;
  • methods of calculating and allocating overheads, e.g. central administration;
  • committee or administrative structures;
  • classification of certain activities e.g. street cleaning.
At present, it is not usually possible to eliminate the differences arising from these factors on the basis of one or two indicators only.

It must be emphasised that conclusions based on the figures for individual authorities should take into account the explanations and qualifications contained in authorities’ own publications. The notes and definitions contained in Local Government Comparative Statistics draw attention to some particular weaknesses of the data; users of the book are advised to consult the more detailed publications referred to in Annex C and below.

Finally, as the code of practice recognises, an indication of an authority’s performance will not necessarily be given best, or only, in an inter-authority context. Other comparisons that may be of interest include:
  • comparisons of achievement against plans;
  • comparisons over time: trends and time series;
  • service point comparisons, e.g. the unit costs of schools either within or between authorities;
  • comparisons with organisations outside local government.
There is also a choice to be made between comparisons based on ‘actuals’ and those based on ‘estimates’. The code of practice suggests that historical information should be supplemented with more up-to-date statistics that are only available as estimates.

Selection of Comparable Authorities

Although the code of practice calls for comparisons with other authorities of similar characteristics it does not offer advice on how to select these authorities.

In preparing their first annual reports under the code, authorities used chiefly the following criteria to select authorities for comparison purposes:
  • similar authorities, chosen subjectively;
  • average for all authorities;
  • geographical neighbouring authorities (which may be more meaningful to a lay audience);
  • dissimilar authorities, for contrast as well as comparison;
  • authorities of a similar size, in terms of population or expenditure;
  • clusters i.e. similar authorities chosen 'scientifically'.

Best Value Performance Indicators

In addition to the information showing the comparative statistics, this volume shows (after the main tables) Best Value Performance Indicators as provided by the ODPM and NAfW. An index describing specific indicators precedes each set of tables.

Other Sources of Comparative Statistics

Local Government Comparative Statistics forms part of the range of publications produced by the CIPFA Statistical Information Service (SIS). SIS currently publishes annually some thirty five books giving information on the main services of local authorities. These contain details of estimated or actual expenditure by local authorities on particular services many with some comparative statistics and selected non-financial information about staffing and client groups.

An annual publication by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is ‘Local Government Financial Statistics, England and Wales’ (HMSO).

Citizens' Charter Performance Indicators

The Local Government Act 1992 requires the Audit Commission to specify a set of indicators for measuring the performance of each local authority in England and Wales.

The sources from which Local Government Comparative Statistics has been compiled are detailed in the notes on definitions in Annex A.


The Institute and the compiler are grateful for any comments and suggestions received in response to Local Government Comparative Statistics. These contributions are important for the improvement and development of the publication. Proposals for additional or better indicators are also valuable although it may not be possible to implement all the suggestions that are received. The Institute and the compiler wish to thank the local authority compilers and government departments who have provided data for inclusion in the publication.

Summary Tables

Summary - Actuals 2002-03
Summary - Estimates 2003-04
Summary - Actuals 2002-03 and Estimates 2003-04 Fire and Police

April 2005

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