Spending review and statistics

What happened to government statistics in the spending review? Err, it’s hard to know. It looks like good news but some uncertainties remain.

There are several dozen statements a day on the gov.uk announcements page. There were over 50 publications and announcements about the Spending Review and Autumn Statement on 25 November. None seemed to be about UKSA, ONS or statistics according to my searches.

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It appears that the ONS does not use this medium. A search shows that  only 12 of the 50,000 plus announcements on the site are by the ONS, and all of those are joint announcements with another department in the lead. It would be worth UKSA joining in.

The web pages for the Office for National Statistics and UK Statistics Authority pages also reveal nothing about the spending settlement. Sadly the UKSA home page is not at all newsy – it has three stories scrolling in the “latest” pane at the top of the page and they date from May, June and July. It might not be a fast moving organisation but …….

There is a line for ONS in table 2.25 of section 11.21 of this Treasury Spending Review document. On the face of it, the news for ONS looks quite good – the budget is rising over the planned years. Indeed, the rise of 15% over the next two years (to £168m in 2017-18) seems to be better than any other departments set out in the book. A moment of caution – there seems to be no breakdown yet, there might be hidden issues we can’t see and no doubt there are efficiencies in there to be made, but it still looks like a stronger platform than it could so easily have been.

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The £145m used by the Treasury for the baseline in 2015-16 does not (on my arithmetic) match the figures in the latest UKSA annual report. The table below, from page 27 of the report, suggest DEL of £174.2m less depreciation of £16.5m, to give nearly £158m compared to the £145m in the Treasury baseline. Some of the gap might be accounted for by the spending review being ONS and the annual report being UKSA but surely not all of it.

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So, while the ONS has avoided the worst of the cuts and there’s a small question about how much of an increase the ONS really has, the funding prospects for the government statistics machine as a whole will depend on other factors. The first is to note that much of the spend on statistics is in other departments and none of their figures are set out. With many initiatives for data sharing being proposed and an increased focus on the use of admin data, departments will need money as well as desire to deliver. (Perhaps the UKSA board ought to be setting out these figures? It should know better than anyone that if you don’t measure something it doesn’t exist in the minds of many people!) Second, the Bean review is published on Wednesday. Could that reopen the spending envelope?

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