Statistics

Supplementary written evidence submitted by UKSA (1 STATS 11)

Thank you for your letter dated 16 October which sought further information from the Statistics Authority with regard to the Committee’s inquiry into the operation of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007.

The Authority’s response to each supplementary question is provided below, and further detailed operational information in respect of data sharing, provided by ONS officials, is included in the attached Annex.

a. UK Statistics Authority strategy

Following our oral evidence to the Committee in September, I have put in place a programme of work to prepare a strategy paper along the lines you requested, and we are actively taking note of the Committee’s published reports in this area. The Authority Board discussed the matter at its meetings subsequent to our oral evidence and I expect to be in a position to send the paper to the Committee in the early New Year. My office will continue to keep the Committee Clerk informed of progress. If you would like an earlier indication of our direction of travel, then I would be pleased to meet with you to discuss that.

b. Statistical communication

You asked specifically about the points that emerged from the statistical communication workshop that I convened in the summer, and to which I referred during our oral evidence. Building on th e Authority’s published guidance for government statisticians set out in our statement Standards for Statistical Releases , published in October 2010 we identified seven areas in which we would wish to work further with the statistical service in developing statistical communication. These will be reflected in a revised statement on Standards for Statistical Releases which the Authority will publish shortly . The seven areas are:

· uncertainty – emphasising that official statistics are estimates rather than absolutes; and the importance of guidance for user s about relevant quality considerations in relation to the potential uses of the statistics;

· trends – highlighting the rich value of time-series, rather than over-emphasis on month-to-month or point-to-point comparisons of estimates;

· accessible explanation – introduced, defined, and clearly explained concepts, so that the user can easily understand them;

· international comparisons – providing comparisons with other countries to frame the UK’s situation where appropriate;

· context – explaining how statistics relate to our wider economy and society;

· attribution and causation – should not be asserted without sufficient statisti cal evidence, or otherwise in a manner which might inadvertently be regarded as misleading ; and ,

· written outputs should use plain English and should meet expected standards for publication.

c. National Statistics and official statistics: statutory nomenclature

During our oral evidence to the Committee in September, we discussed the nomenclature of ‘National Statistics’ and the extent to which that label is meaningful to, for example, the user community. We did not suggest that the label ‘official statistics’ was unsatisfactory.

The terms ‘official statistics’ and ‘National Statistics’ are set out in the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007. The term ‘official statistics’ is widely used internationally, albeit with slightly different connotations depending on local circumstances. The Statistics Authority does not see a pressing need to change the label ‘official statistics’ as set out in the 2007 Act. The Act provides for producers of official statistics in the UK to be all Crown bodies that produce statistics and a wide range of non-Crown bodies as provided for by Order agreed under the affirmative procedure. The processes for consultation with the Statistics Authority on draft secondary legislation in this area are also set out in the Act, and so far they have worked satisfactorily. We see such a breadth of definition as being a strength of the legislation as it ensures that the standards set down for official statistics are seen to apply regardless of which body produces them.

However, we are aware that there is a significant amount of numerical data that is produced by government and public bodies that is currently out of scope in this regard. Such data are often referred to by the bodies that produce them as ‘management information’, with the implication that the figures are to inform internal operational management. We readily accept that some data fall in this category – for example data on the allocation of staff to functions within a department – and they might reasonably be seen as purely administrative information. However, where ‘management’ data, or indeed the findings of research and other numerical analysis, are used publicly in support of policies or decisions, or otherwise become the subject of public debate, we would wish to see a presumption that they will, in future, be treated as official statistics regardless of how they have been regarded in the past. That has been the view of the Statistics Authority since its inception – as we have set out in our published statements and correspondence – and we would like government to adopt this policy and to include it in central guidance on the matter. Furthermore, if the Authority believes that figures which ought properly to be considered as ‘official statistics’ have been otherwise so defined we will say so publicly and report the matter to Parliament.

The term ‘National Statistics’ is also defined in the 2007 Act. We understand that it was included because during the period in which the legislation was being drafted, and at the time the Act came into force in April 2008, a large number of statistics already carried the ‘National Statistics’ label as a result of the previous non-statutory regime under the Framework for National Statistics. Now that all existing National Statistics have been assessed against the Code of Practice, we believe that the National Statistics label can be taken to mean that the statistics have been assessed under the Act as compliant with the Code of Practice and designated as National Statistics in recognition of such Code compliance.

As I said to the Committee during our oral evidence in September, we are aware that some find the term ‘National Statistics’ potentially misleading, for example that it might suggest the coverage of the data is ‘national’ when they may not necessarily be. While we have not, to date, received many representations seeking an alternative nomenclature, the Statistics Authority is actively considering this matter further. Were any changes proposed, it would be necessary for us to take further legal and procedural advice on any implications such a change might have, for example whether there would be a need for amendments to primary legislation such as the 2007 Act. We would also expect to consult publicly on any options for change before reaching a conclusion and making a recommendation to the Committee and to Parliament more generally. We would expect any change to require the agreement of the UK Parliament, as well as the devolved legislatures, and before making any proposals for change it also would be necessary for the Authority consult publicly with the four UK administrations.

I do not see it to be necessary to review the job title of the National Statistician or the organisational name of the Office for National Statistics in light of any changes that may be made to the nomenclature of ‘National Statistics’. The post of ‘National Statistician’ is a Crown appointment provided for in the 2007 Act, and the title accurately describes the role, status and national responsibilities of the postholder; it is also well known and understood nationally and internationally. The organisation name of the Office for National Statistics similarly is well known both nationally and internationally, and again it accurately describes the ONS’s functions in relation to the production and publication of social and economic statistics, and related analysis, many of which have national coverage.

d. Separation of functions and alternative governance structures

It is not my view that there have been ‘difficulties’ in separating out the functions of producing and assessing statistics although it is, of course, the case that finding precisely the right governance arrangements and processes is a challenge in this context. My predecessor, Sir Michael Scholar, noted in written evidence to the Committee in 2011 that ‘decisions on assessment are taken entirely independently of producers of statistics’ and said that in general terms our governance arrangements ‘provide as much separation of the two sets of responsibilities as can be achieved within the terms of the (2007) Act’. This is a view which I share and this continues to be the case. The 2007 Act provides for a Statistics Board with a non-executive Chair, a majority of other non-executive members, and three executive members of which one shall be the National Statistician. On the establishment of the Authority in 2008, two non-executive Deputy Chairs were appointed, one with responsibility for governance of the Office for National Statistics as chair of the Authority’s ONS Board, a sub-committee of the Authority Board; and the second with responsibility for oversight of the wider statistical system as chair of the Authority’s Committee for Official Statistics, also a sub-committee of the Authority Board. The Authority also established an Assessment sub-committee, chaired by the Deputy Chair (Statistical System), which comprises only the Head of Assessment and those non-executive members of the Authority Board who are members of the Committee for Official Statistics; no officials with responsibility for the production or publication of statistics attend the Assessment sub-committee.

The Authority’s ongoing consideration of its strategic priorities, discussed above, will afford a natural opportunity to consider what, if any, fine-tuning of current governance arrangements might be appropriate.

The Head of Assessment has a team of around 20 staff to support him in his assessment functions and they are located on three sites in Newport, Edinburgh and London. In Edinburgh, the assessment staff are accommodated in an office of their own, while in Newport and London they are located on the same sites as ONS staff, largely on the grounds of efficiency and economy, and with some physical separation from ONS staff working on the production and publication of official statistics. At present I am content with the current physical location of staff working on assessment functions. I would be pleased to make arrangements for you and members of the Committee to visit any of our offices at a time which might be convenient for you.

e. Public confidence in official statistics: survey

The Authority Board will shortly consider proposals that during 2013 we will update earlier surveys and research relating to public confidence in official statistics and the views of leading users and commentators. We would expect to publish the results of any such work during the second half of 2013. I have asked my office to keep the Committee Clerk informed of progress in this area.

f. Stakeholder assessments of ONS performance

Assessments by ONS’s stakeholders of ONS’s performance are provided in the attached file. I have asked ONS officials to advise the organisations concerned that these have been transmitted to the Committee.

November 2012


ANNEX – Data sharing: benefits and difficulties

i. Data sharing: benefits

Effective data sharing across departments can bring significant benefits, including for statistical purposes: for example , in improving the evidence base to support policy development; in improving the quality of statistics; in reducing data collection costs; and in reducing the burden on data suppliers (including businesses).

Recent examples include:

· the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs sharing data on offenders, benefit claimants and employees to analyse employment and benefit outcomes for offenders to support policy development;

· h aving recently (January 2012) started to receive monthly and quarterly data on financial results (VAT turnover and expenditure), ONS is building on EU recommendations to produce monthly and quarterly figures on the output of the Construction, Services, Production and Retail parts of the economy. The per annum saving s for businesses from not having to supply the data twice are expected to be significant ; and,

· i mprovements to population and migration statistics using data sharing orders under the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 (see the case study below).

Case Study: Improving Population Statistics

Data sharing Orders have enabled the ONS to secure access to a number of sources of data held by departments for statistical purposes, including the Student Record and the School Censuses for England and for Wales , to improve population statistics. These have provided statisticians with access to unit records for specific population groups, providing ONS with accurate, timely and detailed information about the distribution and characteristics of important sub-groups of the population and a better understanding of change over time.

Access to these additional sources has been found to be especially useful in the context of the 2011 Census and the Migration Statistics Improvement Programme. The benefits of the data sharing Orders for these projects are discussed in greater detail below.

2011 Census

Information from the above sources has been used directly to inform essential work on checking and quality assuring outputs from the 2011 Census. Data linkage, in particular using record level information from the School Census and the Student Record, has enabled ONS to understand the relationship between these administrative sources and data from the 2011 Census. Subsequently, aggregate data from these administrative sources were used directly to quality assure the 2011 Census population estimates. This work has helped users better to understand relationships between the administrative data and census data.

The data from these administrative sources will continue to be used to provide assurance on the accuracy of other key statistical outputs from the Census as the phased programme of Census releases is completed over the next few months.

Data from these administrative sources have provided users with increased assurance in the accuracy of the Census estimates and their suitability for use in resource allocation and planning. This work is also directly relevant to consideration of the future of the Census.

Migration Statistics Improvement Programme

The availability of detailed information from the Student Record has enabled ONS to improve its understanding of the intra-national migration of students and thereby to refine underlying migration assumptions used in the production of ONS’s mid-year population estimates. Similarly, the availability of more up-to-date information from administrative sources, including the Student Record, has contributed to a new and improved methodology for estimating and distributing long-term immigration data from the International Passenger Survey directly to local authority geographical areas. By moving from reliance on survey to including administrative data in this way, ONS is better able to identify turning points in trends in inward migration and produce more timely (at least three months earlier) and frequent statistics and related analysis.

ii. Data sharing: difficulties

ONS has experienced a number of difficulties with the data sharing provisions in the 2007 Act.

The powers in the 2007 Act are permissive and, as a result, ONS cannot compel data owners to provide required data. These limitations are highlighted by the ongoing challenges in securing access to data from the Customer Information System. Although Regulations were approved in May 2012 (by the UK Parliament) and in June 2012 (by the N orthern Ireland Assembly), ONS has not yet been able to conclude the transmission of the data.

The regulations are not ‘future proof’ and further legislation is necessary if datasets change. Administrative sources are subject to change and this poses a risk to ONS and its ability to safeguard the ongoing provision of statistics.

Data sharing Orders can only deal with statutory bars to data sharing which pre-date the 2007 Act.

Currently, ONS believes that the statutory powers are insufficient in meeting ongoing requirements for access to data from key sources. For example, HM Revenue and Customs have, so far, been unable to authorise access to the new PAYE Real Time Information without new primary legislation. It is recognised by both ONS and HMRC that if these data could be s hared, the savings for businesses would be significant because they would not need to provide data twice.

The processes for securing access to data are also often complex and time consuming. For example, they require the preparation of detailed business cases justifying requirements for each data item. As a result, for example, current provisions are unlikely to be able to deal with requirements for access to Corporation Tax data where there are at least 2,000 separate data items required.

Difficulties in producing a robust specification of requirements, essential for the preparation of draft legislation, are illustrated by recent discussions with HM Revenue and Customs regarding Corporation Tax. Officials have indicated that ONS cannot undertake the feasibility research required to develop a clear set of data sharing proposals unless it can demonstrate that these would be of direct benefit to HM Revenue and Customs.

To overcome these difficulties ONS would propose a simpler legislative framework; more streamlined assurance processes; and closer cooperation between those responsible for administrative sources, or systems, and ONS. Specifically ONS would wish to ensure that it has advance notification of any planned changes to the scope or content of administrative sources or systems. Such advance notification will become critical as ONS places increasing reliance on administrative data for key population and economic statistics.

Summary of key accounts assessments of ONS in 2011/12

Key: 3 good, 2 satisfactory, 1 poor

Organisation

Engagement

Quality of data

Collaboration

Competence

Other

Overall Mark

Comment

Dept for Business, Innovation and Skills

3

3

2

3

2

3

BIS and ONS work closely together on a wide range of topics. The regular ONS/ BIS liaison meetings work well to highlight key points of development on both sides. ONS has shown interest in emerging departmental needs and good cooperation exists at the working level. The level of disaggregation available remains a concern for BIS. This is particularly so in business statistics where the regional/sectoral and international trade aspects of the BIS policy remit are data heavy. ONS helpfully extended coverage of Trade in Goods which goes some way to addressing the need for greater detail. BIS very much appreciates the work done by ONS on developing the framework for well-being.

Cabinet Office

3

2-3

3

2-3

2-3

No comments

Dept for Communities and Local Government

2

2

2

2.5

1

2

DCLG uses a wide range of ONS data and have interactions at many levels. Overall we assess the ONS performance in 2010/11 to be satisfactory although there has been a wide variation in performance reported by individual teams. Some DCLG customers have expressed high levels of satisfaction with ONS’s approach to customer engagement, its technical and subject-matter expertise, and its record on service delivery. But other assessments have been less complimentary. Particular strengths have been on the transfer of the House Price Index from DCLG to ONS where we rate the ONS performance as excellent and on data to support Local Government Finance including population estimates and projections and the Migration Statistics Improvement Programme. There have also been constructive discussions on well being and DCLG is well placed to help take forward this agenda with local authorities. Performance has been less strong in other areas. National accounts are important to DCLG and whilst we acknowledge that ONS work effectively with their stakeholders, concerns remain about the quality of the data and the speed of resolution of issues. On Beyond 2011 there have been useful discussions but we would like to see the establishment of the cross Whitehall working group.

The changes to the ONS website have been a cause for concern with broken links being a source of frustration.

Dept of Health

2

3

3

3

3

The following key themes emerge from DH feedback.

ONS provides a responsive service to ad hoc requests and continues to produce good quality regular outputs. Its engagement and working relations with selected DH staff are effective but consultations would benefit from better follow-through.

DH would value more emphasis on England only data, as this reflects our Ministerial responsibility. Given Welsh Government may have a similar need / view, this represents a case for the traditional ONS England and Wales summaries to be replaced or reinforced by England only and Wales only summaries.

Redevelopment of the ONS website has improved the accessibility of latest releases but has caused frustration for colleagues searching for historical content.

DH is satisfied that ONS meets all the requirements of the Cancer SLA.

The ONS Health and Life Events Team is engaged in productive dialogue with officials involved with transition arrangements for Public Health England. It will be important to continue this dialogue and build on this, while also maintaining good links with those parts of DH who will continue to support Ministers and the Chief Medical Officer on health policies.

Home Office Home Office/ UK Border Agency

3

Our views relate primarily, but not solely, to the Population Theme of ONS.

We appreciate the continued progress being made through the cross–departmental Migration Statistics Improvement Programme. We value the progress made by the Migration Reporting Working Group and the Entry and Exit Working Group which will both continue beyond the end of the Programme. We are particularly interested in the governance of these groups and like other departments, such as CLG and DWP, we see a continued senior policy and senior analytical role in developing population and migration estimates after the formal ending of the Programme. We look forward to seeing developed proposals which meet this need and as well as for our continued close cooperation on the Beyond 2011 Programme.

We value the ONS contribution to our Migration Statistics User Forum which successfully met four times in the last year or so. Users agreed that this Forum had delivered on its original requirements so much so that an annual meeting supported by an electronic forum now replace the more frequent meetings. We will continue to be responsive to points raised by our users throughout the year. We believe this has been a model for user engagement in our field and we are grateful for support from ONS participants and we hope this will continue.

Other good examples of joint working and cooperation are evident in the population projections work; the use of Semaphore data and the development of the potential use of E- Borders data; the data sharing to validate the Census; and other data sharing including Certificate of Acceptance for Study (CAS), Certificate of Sponsorship (COS) and visas data to improve our understanding of population estimates. Although Home Office analysts had some concerns over the methodology for the population projections we were pleased that these concerns have been recognised and will be looked at in more detail as part of the future review of the projection methods.

We are looking forward to seeing the results of the new migration related questions added to the 2011 Census and we anticipate a lot of analytical value coming from investigating the detail in the data. The initial discussions with ONS Population Division and Census Outputs have been very positive and we anticipate productive joint-work on this front in the coming year.

We regard ONS population outputs as high quality and we welcome the responsiveness of ONS in adding new questions to the IPS to better understand the original intentions of visiting the UK as departing foreign nationals leave the country. This change is much anticipated by our users and will be a positive step in filling a major gap in the IPS outputs. We also look forward to contributing to the IPS steering group, and to working with ONS to develop a wider conceptual framework for population and migration statistics that sets out organising principles and covers our data and that of DWP, not just that of ONS, in order to meet the requirement of the UK Statistics Authority s report Migration Statistics: The Way Ahead?

We believe our teams benefit from good communication with ONS at all levels although we continue to think some aspects of the Code could be better applied through a more pragmatic approach (e.g. to pre-release access, better recognising the demands of an operational agency and policy making department).

We also believe that ONS reporting still needs to improve its interpretation of migration issues on occasion, and this could be achieved by earlier and more open engagement within the statistical community on emerging findings and draft reports (e.g. for quality assurance purposes). One particular example involves the reporting of estimates of employment by nationality and country of birth in Labour Market estimates – which does not yet recognise the primacy of nationality in this analysis given that many of those who were born abroad are no longer „foreign , but British citizens.

ONS could also be better at promoting forthcoming releases and planned work as there have also been a few "unexpected" ONS outputs during the year that we believe our statisticians and analysts could have been better fore-warned of so as to better brief our colleagues at the time of publication. Using our knowledge and skills in the area of migration routinely for quality assurance, i.e. for all international migration related work and outputs, would help bridge these gaps. This sort of close-working within the statistical community might also give ONS confidence to work more closely to integrate further our statistical outputs on international migration, for example by enabling greater consistency and comparability of sources across both ONS and Home Office migration releases.

These are suggestions for improvement, but they should not detract from the very positive regard which we have for our ONS colleagues and their work generally.

We consider the overall assessment of ONS performance to be "good".

HM Treasury

2

2

3

2

2

2

Throughout 2011 the ONS has again had to deliver in a period where there has been continuing scrutiny of its statistics as a result of the prevailing economic conditions while simultaneously looking to deliver efficiency savings.

Overall, the Treasury feels the quality of the main outputs has been maintained. It was disappointing that, for the second year, aspects of the Blue Book were delayed. The Treasury are pleased that some significant quality improvements were delivered, notably the introduction of SIC2007.

We feel production of the inflation and labour market statistics continues to go smoothly. The Treasury has been grateful for the ONS’s endeavours to analyse and reconcile the divergences between measures within these statistics. We are pleased that a full programme of development remains high on the agenda including developing a measure of owner-occupier housing costs for the CPI. This remains a high priority for the Treasury.

We are satisfied that the ONS continues to shape its statistical work programme and value the ability to participate in consultations. Given constrained resources we are of the view that ONS should maintain focus on activities that ensure the quality of the outputs, rather than commentary and analysis of data that can be equally well conducted by users. We welcome the formation of an expert group to assess ways of improving financial statistics and we are keen that this work be given sufficient resources to deliver meaningful improvements.

We see the recent ONS internal restructuring as a useful means to deliver statistical improvements. The merging of business functions involved in the building of statistical systems with ONS methodology capacity should help facilitate better delivery of future improvements across all ONS outputs. The programme of work to improve the new website is something that the Treasury supports and should be given priority.

Our relationships with ONS teams remain good. We value efforts made by ONS staff across the department to keep us informed about relevant developments.

Dept for Work and Pensions

2

2

2

2

1

2

DWP is content with the majority of services that it receives from ONS

and the relationship with them. We rely heavily on ONS labour market

statistics and many other key series and are generally satisfied with their quality.

We are particularly impressed with the pro-active approach ONS take to seeking

comments / clearance on use of any Migrant Worker Scan data we have provided.

The support received from the National Statisticians office during recent UKSA

assessment has been much appreciated as have the set up of the commentary

workshops including for the FRS /HBAI.

However there are some areas where we feel ONS did not meet our expectations ,

given that DWP is paying large amounts of money for ONS to deliver high quality

and high profile statistics. There are concerns about some aspects of customer service,

data quality, and the processes for resolving issues . We feel that this is something

which will need to be improved when the FRS is used to meet EU-SILC requirements

and if ONS are seeking a long-term commitment from DWP in terms of WAS.

Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency

3

3

3

3

3

NISRA has a good overall working relationship with ONS. Those business areas with

whom we liaise respond quickly and helpfully to any queries raised. This was particularly

highlighted during the joint 2011 Census work with NISRA when ONS personnel

showed a high level of commitment to the joint work which contributed to the success

of the 2011 Census in Northern Ireland.

Scottish Government

2

3

2

3

2

2

We welcome the engagement and collaboration between ONS and the Scottish

Government over the production and publication of statistics for both devolved and

reserved areas and indeed for publications which involve both. We should not be

complacent as more can be done and this is especially important given the reduced

resource on both sides which mean we should be more efficient, effective and have

agreed priorities and timetables to enable us both either individually or together to

produce statistics which meet our user’s needs.

ONS respond professionally to any request. Their data is invariably high quality.

The work they do on our behalf is also of a high quality.

Welsh Government

3

3

3

3

2

3

The Welsh Government and ONS work together on statistics about Wales; with a

generally good relationship between the two organisations. The Welsh Government

considers the ONS performance for 2011/12 to be good and merit a "good" rating.

The Welsh Government regard the quality of the statistics produced by ONS as fit for

purpose in general.

The quality of service provided by ONS has been good, with the increase in successful

communication between the two organisations last year maintained with a few minor

exceptions. The key issue for us and our users is the new ONS website. We have

experienced difficulty in locating statistics and are no longer able to find documents

either due to broken links or files not having been re-uploaded. Although it should be

noted that the individual ONS teams have been helpful when approached with these

issues.

The ONS have continued to keep us informed of developments via the various working

groups, function boards and stakeholder meetings that take place regularly. We also

welcomed the opportunity to comment on the ONS Work Programme and look forward

to further discussions on the choices ONS will be making.

Bank of England

2

1

2

1

1

The Bank places a high value on timely, accurate economic data: we appreciate the

ONS’ expertise and efforts to deliver this. We continue to place importance on the

working relationship with ONS staff and welcome their engagement on Bank priorities.

The 2011 Blue Book included some significant changes - including the move to SIC2007

– and is clearly a step forward. We also welcomed the 2005 Input Output tables. The Blue

Book - stated as a key priority for the Bank last year - fell short of expectations, however,

due to significant publication delays and gaps in back data. That placed a significant cost

on Bank staff. The consistency of long-run datasets remains a concern – in particular,

GDP has been deflated using the new methodology only from 1997.

We remain pleased with ONS performance on prices and labour market, and the support

provided to the Bank in understanding these statistics. CPI data production has continued

to go smoothly and we remain confident in the overall data quality. We welcome the

further progress made in 2011 towards incorporating Owner Occupied Housing into the

CPI.

We appreciated the establishment of an Expert Group on developing financial statistics.

And we welcome ONS plans to improve the flow of funds reporting in line with the

prioritised data gaps identified following the financial crisis. We are, however, concerned

that the ONS’s current resources are such that they propose to do only the minimum

necessary to meet international standards.

Given the National Accounts’ particular importance to us, this year’s Blue Book problems

have weighed heavily on the Bank’s overall assessment. This was compounded by a

number of errors in data releases and issues around the launch of the new website.

We therefore judge that performance has been poor, in that performance needs

noticeable improvement in this area. But if that area is put to one side, performance

in the remaining areas is judged satisfactory.

Health and Social Care Information Centre

2

2

3

3

1

2

The HSCIC has worked closely with ONS over the year in numerous areas. We

have much appreciated the collaborative, professional and helpful approach of

ONS staff, and have found the overall liaison framework very helpful. There remain

a few areas where improvements are needed or should be considered by ONS: we

trust that the well documented problems with the website will be resolved soon, and that

lessons will be learned and promulgated from this; we would suggest some review of

the error-handling approach to make sure it is fully customer centred; we think there

may be scope for reviewing whether particular areas of ONS’ service provision are

overstretched. We look forward to continuing to work together closely and effectively

over the coming years.

Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR)

2

1

3

2

2

The Office for Budget Responsibility is a key user of the ONS’s whole range of

economic and public finance statistics. The latest ONS statistics provide the platform

or launch point which determines the starting point for our forecasts, and so the accuracy

of their statistics has a critical impact on the accuracy of our forecasts. ONS statistics

also provide the outturn benchmark against which the performance of our forecasts is

measured.

We have been grateful to the ONS for the excellent help that they have provided to us

over the past year in liaising with us directly over our various requirements, and in

engaging with us in various internal data quality discussions. In particular we gratefully

drew on their various previous articles on measures of debt in order to produce parts

of our first Fiscal sustainability report in July 2011.

The scope of the 2011 Blue Book – including a full re-balancing of the National Accounts

back to 1997 – was a major undertaking for the ONS and a significant achievement.

However, the delay in publication was unhelpful and the staggered release of data

(and withdrawal from publication of some series), created some difficulties for the

Preparation of our N ovember 2012 forecast. p rep aration of

We would encourage the ONS to continue to try to clear their backlog of revisions and

to implement announced classification decisions and quality improvements with as much

speed as possible – whilst maintaining their high standards of professional production

and quality assurance. We also look forward to the progress that they are able to make

in next year’s Blue Book to better align the public sector finance data in the quarterly

National Accounts, and in the monthly public sector finance statistics. And we hope

that they might be able to apply some further resources to make their various data

series more accessible via their website.

November 2012

Prepared 3rd January 2013