Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260
THURSDAY 16 NOVEMBER 2000
JOHNSON, MP AND
260. I want to know about the difference; that
(Miss Johnson) Obviously the Framework gives clear
access to the National Statistician on questions of integrity
to the Prime Minister. The National Statistician has a clearly
defined role within the Framework. I do not know whether it would
be helpful in terms of things like the Code of Practice if Mr
Cook answered in more detail.
(Mr Cook) My understanding of the differences from
after June and before June are firstly the existence of the Statistics
Commission which provides wise and insightful retrospective oversight
of how decisions should have been made which, as you know, is
a very powerful determinant of ensuring that decisions that are
made at any particular time are made in the best possible way.
The second I think is that we have always had Codes of Practice
in the United Kingdom but this Code of Practice will be one which
brings together in a more cohesive and comprehensive way all those
issues that relate to professional matters in the broadest way.
That Code of Practice again will be public and visible and it
will also be something which will be clearly more accountable
across the broad range of statistical agencies. The third thing
is the significance of the post of National Statistician in that
the framework arrangements from my understanding of the past define
more clearly the explicit role of the National Statistician on
professional matters. I think the obligation of that was very
clear, that the National Statistician is seen as the one who must
defend professional issues and professional problems. You of course
as members of the Committee will determine that more effectively,
will you not, in the extent to which you feel that those matters
should actually be accountable politically rather than professionally?
That in effect helps set that boundary.
(Miss Johnson) Could I add one further thing to what
Mr Cook has said in relation to this? The other aspects of it,
which I touched on earlier, are about planning and quality across
government which is explicitly provided for in all of this in
a way which it was not explicitly provided for before. It will
span all government departments and it will span a lot of what
is done across government and obviously we are hoping therefore
to have much greater coherence and a higher guaranteed quality
right across the work that is done across government departments.
(Mr Cook) Can I just make a point about the quality
framework. I think the visibility of a framework in a way that
is specifying the quality of United Kingdom statistics and the
oversight by the Commission of that particularly is a very important
element of the new arrangements.
261. Minister, when you appeared here on 1 March
I asked you about the Statistician's integrity and you said, "It
is so important that the National Statistician has a right of
access in terms of integrity directly to the Prime Minister."
Yet when the Framework document appeared that right has been qualified.
It is only access "through the head of the home Civil Service".
It is indirect. You misled us.
(Miss Johnson) I do not believe that I misled you.
Obviously all the people who head up different government departments
or parts of government who are effectively Permanent Secretaries
as it were have an initial contact before anything else with the
head of the home Civil Service, with Sir Richard Wilson, who acts
as the top of the home Civil Service. I do not believe that I
have in any way misled you in the remarks that I made earlier.
262. But you said the access would be direct
and it is not direct. It is through the head of the home Civil
(Miss Johnson) You are disputing it. I am saying it
is direct. You are saying it is not. That is a matter of interpretation
263. But you told us twice on 1 March in question
57 and at question 116. In question 57 you said he had a right
of access in terms of integrity issues directly to the Prime Minister.
The word "direct" does not appear in the Framework document.
It says that the Statistician has access to the Prime Minister
through the head of the home Civil Service. That is not direct.
(Miss Johnson) It depends on how that contact is carried
out and I would say that it is entirely consistent with the remarks
that I made earlier.
264. What is the Head of the Home Civil Service
doing getting in between the Statistician and the Prime Minister
if there is a serious issue of integrity?
(Miss Johnson) You are constructing "in between"
in a negative way. It is just a normal understanding, I believe,
of direct access.
265. "A normal understanding of direct
access" that you should have to ask Sir Richard Wilson first.
(Miss Johnson) It does not say he has to ask him.
It says it is "contact via". I have not got the quote
in front of me but I take it you are reading it.
266. I am reading from your document.
(Miss Johnson) That is what I am saying. I have not
267. "Through the Head of the Home Civil
(Miss Johnson) Yes, but it does not actually say
The contact is initially with Sir Richard Wilson, in this case,
the Head of the Home Civil Service.
268. You think that is direct?
(Miss Johnson) I believe that gives the National Statistician
a direct access under normal arrangements through to the Prime
Minister, if that is what he so wishes.
269. Would that be the same arrangement for
the Home Security Service?
(Miss Johnson) I am afraid I am not competent to comment
270. Mr Cook, were you satisfied with the outcome
of the Spending Review?
(Mr Cook) It certainly recognised the significant
areas of development in its statistics. PAT 18, for example. There
is a very strong injection to the PAT 18 project. It provided
an injection of capital to the organisation. Perhaps for me the
most significant thing was the KPMG Review, the end goal of changing
the resource base of ONS, and continuing to recognise that those
changes will be channelled back into official statistics.
271. Obviously that will be coming through but
in real terms it looks as though there is going to be a cut over
the next few years, given that 2001 there is a Census going on
and resources being put in for that. Over the longer term you
are not concerned about under-funding?
(Mr Cook) In the medium term our activities have been
focused on creating a sustainable long-term platform for United
Kingdom official statistics, through redeveloping the statistical
infrastructure. Now that we have created a central statistical
office, essentially over a largely dispersed set of statistical
activities, we are feeling the benefits of economies of scale
and critical mass that have come from bringing that activity together.
That has taken up a lot of my time since I first arrived but we
now have a fairly clear strategy, which is consistent with the
Spending Review proposals.
272. So you are more than happy that the resources
will meet the new remit of National Statistics?
(Mr Cook) I have never met a Permanent Secretary yet
who has expressed happiness or superlatives in terms of their
budget, particularly in the company of the Minister!
273. Let us move on slightly to one of the new
targets, which I am extremely interested in, which is developing
the neighbourhood statistics at ward level, covering a range of
pre-agreed measures of social and economic deprivation, and to
report annually, which I do feel is long overdue. What is that
particular project going to cost?
(Mr Cook) It is going to cost some £35 million
in total, I believe, some £20 million for ONS. May I say
that the important element of that project is that not only the
current outputs of ONS will change, but it will be one of the
significant opportunities to change the quality of the capital
base of ONS. This is because it is going to have such a huge impact
on the whole way we measure information in ONS. PAT 18 is going
to draw on a very high proportion of the statistical data that
we currently collect. Its real value is not so much that it is
going to create new data, but that it will allow very much more
powerful access to data, which we have locked away in systems
which are rather old now and not very flexible.
(Miss Johnson) May I just interject with the sums
of money so that the Committee has them in front of it. It is
£35 million under Government intervention for deprived areas,
which is the total sum under the Spending Review, of which £15
million is going to the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit at DETR. Then
£20 million, as Len Cook said, is going to ONS for the purpose
you are talking about.
274. How many measures in this project are you
starting off with, or will they all be defined prior to the delivery
of the project?
(Mr Cook) The first stage of the project is creating
a very common geography. One of the challenges, which I have discovered
in five months, is the varied nature of regional geography in
the United Kingdom. That is a very significant and very demanding
part of the job, to retrospectively define a common geography.
We are doing that at ward level from the statistical data that
we already have in the United Kingdom. The first step, therefore,
is to make that available around April of next year, so that all
of the regional data we have is readily accessible in the United
Kingdom. The first step is a very coherent database, where we
expect also the quality issues that come from bringing together
data from disparate sources, to be also confronted. The next most
significant step will be using the 2001 Population Census data.
That will be brought into that database. That will then be the
very significant platform around which all the later data that
we have will be put. Parallel to this, may I say, we will be beginning
discussions with Agencies, whose own technology changes, allowing
them to provide data that has previously been difficult to get
at. Areas such as VAT. My own preference is that we ought to be
using tax data, for example. It may take us five years but there
is a richness of tax data that will help us immensely in this
area. One of the most important databases that we have not yet
quite worked through how we will use, but which brings together
the economic data, is our own inter-departmental business register,
which is the way in which we retrospectively provide regional
classifications to administrative records from various sources,
as long as we can fit them into that correctly.
275. Minister, are you satisfied with the way
that the resourcing will be rolling out over the next few years
at National Statistics?
(Miss Johnson) Yes.
276. With the remit of a new and enhanced footing
that National Statistics is on, against a background of what looks
like cuts, are you happy with the chances of delivering?
(Miss Johnson) Obviously one of the big programmes
is the Census and you have remarked on the resourcing in relation
to that. That is obviouslywhilst perhaps not the prime
focus of today's discussiona very big programme in itself,
and is going to be a very big workload for ONS over the next year
or two and beyond. But in terms of other aspects of the ONS resourcing,
we have identified, over the next three years or so, a £15
million sum which ought to be able to be recycled, as it were,
through efficiency savings in order to help ONS to deliver improved
or increased outputs in a number of areas.
277. That is not assured?
(Miss Johnson) That is from internal efficiency work
arising out of the Efficiency Review that KPMG conducted a little
while ago. May I make one further point on that. If you exclude
the Census, I think you did say there were cuts. May I be clear
that there are not cuts. The expenditure is increasing over the
next few years.
278. In real terms?
(Miss Johnson) In real terms, yes.
279. Going back to Mr Cook, compared with your
previous job, how well funded do you think the ONS is?
(Mr Cook) I think it is very difficult to make comparisons.
I have had times in my previous job when we would be funded with
considerable difficulty and in need of more. I would have to say
that broadly there are not significant differences. I come from
a very small, parsimonious, little country and I think that the
basic funding of the issues are pretty much the same in the United
Kingdom, New Zealand, and most countries. There are a small number
of countries which have relatively generously funded their statistical
offices, but most countries fit within a pretty general range
of funding. What we have more to do of in the United Kingdom is
the effective management of the investment that we put in future
activity. I think that the decentralisation of British statistics
has meant that we have not got as much out of the investments
that we have put into statistics, as we will do now that we have
a central statistical office, simply for reasons of economies