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The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland receive grants from the UK Government that fund most of their spending. The largest such grant is the ‘block grant’.

The Barnett formula calculates the annual change in the block grant. The formula doesn’t determine the total size of the block grant just the yearly change. For devolved services, the Barnett formula aims to give each country the same pounds-per-person change in funding.

How does the Barnett formula determine changes to the block grant?

The Barnett formula takes the annual change in a UK government department’s budget and multiplies it by two figures that take into account the relative population of the devolved administration (population proportion) and the extent to which the UK department’s services are devolved (comparability percentage). The calculation is carried out for each UK department and the amount reached is added to the devolved administrations’ block grant.

Change to the UK government department’s budget

x Comparability percentage x Appropriate population proportion

For Wales and Northern Ireland the formula includes a needs based factor, which recognises the additional relative spending need of both. Northern Ireland’s formula also includes a factor recognising that the Northern Ireland Executive gets VAT refunds from more of its spending.

Does the Barnett formula determine changes to other grants?

The UK government provides other grants outside of the block grant. These are often for less predictable demand driven spending. The UK government and devolved administrations negotiate these grants. The Barnett formula does not determine their change.

How has the Barnett formula changed?

The funding system for the devolved authorities has changed in recent years with the devolution of more tax and spending powers, particularly to Scotland. This has meant some adjustments to block grants, to facilitate greater tax and spending devolution, but the Barnett formula itself has been largely unchanged. The main exceptions are the floors added to Barnett formula for Wales and Northern Ireland that prevent their block grant funding falling below a level related to its needs.

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