By Maximilian Clarke

The net worth of the UK public sector, measured on a National Accounts basis, fell to approximately zero by the end of 2010, largely as a result of increased government bond liabilities, according to a report published today by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

A broader picture of the public sector balance sheet: A review at December 2011 is the latest in a series of ONS articles presenting a wide range of information on the public sector’s assets, liabilities and obligations.

The article brings together the latest published information from the ONS sources Public Sector Finances, the National Accounts Blue Book, the Whole of Government Accounts (WGA) and others to provide a broader view of the public sector than is provided by other single sources.

The article explains that in addition to the assets and liabilities recorded in the balance sheets within the National Accounts, the Public Sector Finances and the WGA, there also exists a range of other public sector obligations and contingent liabilities including:

• Unfunded public service pension scheme obligations standing at £1,016 billion at 31 March 2010
• Unfunded state pension obligations, which stood at £1,350 billion when last officially estimated at 31 March 2005
• Private Finance Initiative (PFI) obligations which, as reported in the WGA, amounted to £34 billion at the 31 March 2010
• Quantifiable public sector contingent liabilities of £206 billion at 31 March 2010
The WGA also identify a further range of more remote public sector contingent liabilities, some of which are unquantifiable. Those which were quantifiable amounted to over £600 billion at 31 March 2010.

It is important to note that A broader picture of the public sector balance sheet stresses that the figures it presents may not be simply added together, given that they come from a range of sources, relate to different time periods, have different degrees of uncertainty and are based on different assumptions and accounting rules.

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