Select Committee on Treasury Second Report



3. The Government published a consultation document on its proposals for National Statistics in February 1998 and a White Paper in October 1999, shortly after our Report on the ONS was debated on the floor of the House.[9] The new arrangements were formally launched on 7 June 2000, with the publication of a Framework Document and the initial scope of National Statistics and following the appointment of the new Statistics Commission and National Statistician.[10] A Code of Practice for National Statistics, covering such matters as release practices, is due to be published and there is to be a review of the whole framework after five years.[11]

The New Arrangements

4. The concept of National Statistics lies at the heart of the Government's reforms. National Statistics have been defined as those which "will provide an accurate, up-to-date, comprehensive and meaningful description of the UK economy and society".[12] National Statistics include both statistical outputs and the underlying data sets which produce them. The initial scope of National Statistics encompasses all of the existing public access databases and publications of the ONS and many statistics produced by other departments.[13] The quality, integrity and transparency of National Statistics are guaranteed by the National Statistician. This new post replaces that of Director of the ONS and head of the Government Statistical Service (GSS) and Mr Cook, the first National Statistician, explained that "the framework arrangements ... define more clearly the explicit role of the National Statistician on professional matters" when compared to the previous situation.[14] The final key new element is the Statistics Commission, a new non-departmental public body, "independent of both Ministers and the producers of National Statistics",[15] which will audit the quality and integrity of National Statistics.


5. The new arrangements for National Statistics have received a guarded welcome. The Statistics Users' Council told us that "the Government has taken a bold initiative in setting up a National Statistics service that facilitates democratic debate and provides the public with the basis not only for entering into the discussion of major policy issues, but also passing judgement on the performance of Government itself" although it warned that "whether we advance slowly or rapidly will depend on the funds made available".[16] The Society of Business Economists wrote of "considerable real achievements in recent years".[17] The British Retail Consortium said that it was "broadly supportive of the Framework for National Statistics" and the Royal Statistical Society described the new arrangements as "the first steps towards establishing ... a national statistical service".[18] Sir John Kingman, Chairman of the Statistics Commission, told us in oral evidence that "the long-term effect of the changes [to official statistics] will take some time to emerge and I think the jury is still out".[19]

9   Statistics: A Matter of Trust, HM Treasury, Feb 98, Cm3882; Building Trust in Statistics, HM Treasury, Oct 99, Cm4412; HC Deb, 19 Oct 99, cc287-318 Back

10   Framework for National Statistics, First Edition, ONS, Jun 00 (hereafter Framework), which included the Initial Scope Back

11   Qq230-1, 296 Back

12   Framework, paragraph 1.1 Back

13   See paragraph 6 Back

14   Q260 Back

15   Framework, paragraph 2.2 Back

16   App 4 Back

17   App 2, section III Back

18   App 5, summary and App 3, paragraph 1.1 Back

19   Q171 Back

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Prepared 18 January 2001