The UK Statistics Authority publishes annual accounts – it has to. The latest year’s accounts are late – normally published in July for the previous financial year, we still waiting at the end of September. More importantly, it is a shame to report that UKSA has been publishing shorter commentaries each year – the number of pages has fallen from 66 to 24 in six years. A tendency to reduce visibility is the last thing that the UK’s statistical system needs when the aim is to enhance public trust. Hopefully the new National Statistician, who has already changed much, will convince the board that more transparency is a good idea.
As the UKSA web page explains, “The Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 requires the UK Statistics Authority to publish each financial year a report on what it has done and found during the year, plans for the coming year, and to lay a report before the UK Parliament and the devolved legislatures. Under the Government Resources and Accounts Act 2000, the Statistics Authority is required to produce and publish Resource Accounts each financial year, and to present the accounts to the House of Commons.” The annual reports published since the Authority came into being in 2008 are accessible from this one page.
It seems that each year, Parliament and we, the public, are getting less information. The annual report includes the same sections each year: a foreword from the UKSA chair and the National Statistician, then a chapter on each of UKSA, assessment, the ONS and the wider GSS. Since 2010/11, there has been a section on summary financial information and since 2011/12 the accounts have been included (having been published separately before).
I realise that size is not everything but the reports are getting shorter. In the six years of annual reports, the number of pages given over to the commentary on the business of the UKSA has fallen (no doubt about this trend!) from 66, to 60, 56, 52, 48 and then tumbling to 24. The format evolves from year to year but there’s been no change so fundamental as to compensate for the loss of pages, and no hint of compensating incisiveness or enhanced perspicuity. Surely a department as complex as UKSA spending up to £200m a year and dealing with such a fundamental topic can muster more than 24 pages of commentary?
At a time when the government statistics machine should have been embracing the future, it almost seems to have retreated. The latest report is late, hopefully it will be a highly informative publication that inspires all stakeholders to help deliver the latest strategy.