Trade statistics – are they good enough?

Trade is at the centre of the EU referendum debate and yet there is a question mark over the accuracy of the numbers. It’s widely reported that 44% of the UK’s exports go to the EU. The true figure is almost certainly a few percentage points lower and the figures for bilateral flows between some countries are said to be “seriously misleading”. This note asks how wrong an official statistic has to be before the UK Statistics Authority ceases to call it a National Statistic? The ONS has a consultation out on trade figures closing this week and the next and final set of monthly UK trade figures before the EU referendum are due on 9 JuneContinue reading Trade statistics – are they good enough?

ONS web site – urrgghh

A new ONS website was launched in February. I was delighted that its predecessor (launched in 2011, which brought many apologies from the ONS and was the subject of ridicule, as in this article by Tim Harford) was dispatched in its entirety and I welcomed the new one. It looked much nicer. Sadly, a couple of months on after increasing frustration, I now have to record that, in my humble opinion, it’s different but no better than its predecessor. This site, unlike its predecessor, is redeemable but it needs work on it, and now.

Continue reading ONS web site – urrgghh

44% of exports – data please!

I tried to find the most quoted figure used in the EU referendum debate. I am talking about the “44% of UK exports of goods and services are to the EU”. As a number on its own means little, a country breakdown or data for a few years would also be nice, I mused. I failed to find this on the ONS website and now offer a prize to the first person who can send me the data with source tables.  Continue reading 44% of exports – data please!

Land Registry – data not for sale?

Yesterday I wrote about the launch of the new ONS house prices series. One huge risk was the announcement a week ago of the impending sale of the Land Registry, on whose data the new index would be based. The ONS refused to comment on this at their presentation (and the Land Registry representative was silent) fuelling concerns of those present. It seems, however, that all is not lost. The consultation document about the sale sets out to guard the data. Even so, those who lived through the loss of the PAF address register as part of the sale of Royal Mail will not be convinced that a deal can be struck until it is agreed. It seems that a purchaser is required to sign an open ended deal that would allow government to be in control of the data and set the rules about what is to be collected and how it is to be disseminated. Really? The Chancellor needs his money and a deal needs to be done ………. who has the best hand?

Continue reading Land Registry – data not for sale?

House price statistics flop

Today’s pre-launch of the new house price index from ONS was a disaster. The proposals lacked ambition and the new statistics (based on Land Registry prices) could well disappear next year when the Land Registry is sold. “We’re not going to speculate” about that, said the ONS, who didn’t know who would own the statistics.

Continue reading House price statistics flop

UKSA Board – What next?

The Bean Review has been published and, it seems, has been universally acclaimed as a thorough report with widespread support for its recommendations. It is now official: the 2007 statistics legislation has failed to deliver. Yet, Bean was published over two weeks ago and still we have little idea of what will change as a result. This blog explores the options.

Continue reading UKSA Board – What next?

UKSA effectiveness and governance – Bean highlights

For anyone unable to get through 250 pages of the Bean Review report on government statistics this blog highlights the main issues raised (as I see them) from chapters 4 and 5, regarding the ONS effectiveness and governance. It’s not nice reading. There were positives but they were overshadowed by the negatives. It’s a sad story about a lost decade.

Continue reading UKSA effectiveness and governance – Bean highlights

Earnings: true not fair

The weakness of earnings growth has dominated the debate about the recession and recovery in the last few years. “Average earnings” are lower in inflation-adjusted terms than at their recent peak in 2008. This does not (by and large) reflect falling wages for individuals. The average wage has grown more slowly because millions of low paid jobs have been created. Those low-paying jobs have dragged down the average while earnings for those in work have continued to rise relatively strongly. Poor explanation and inadequate “health warnings” have made it easy for economists, the media and observers to get a misleading impression of what’s been happening. When the underlying truth about the statistics fully emerges, there will be a rewriting of history and a realisation that the recession did not plunge so many people into a “cost of living crisis”. The “average” will also be seen for what it is: a dangerous concept when there is rapid structural change in what is being measured.  Continue reading Earnings: true not fair

Open data: re-engaging

Fans of UK government open data were getting worried that the Cabinet Office’s enthusiasm for transparency was waning. (I wrote this a month ago.) Events of the last week suggest that all is not lost. It is quite plausible that the long period of silence from officialdom was caused by the spending review and other internal stuff, and nothing more sinister. It appears that key players have indeed been hard at work in government. Fingers crossed. As the government has acknowledged, on “openness” of all topics, there is a need for it to communicate with those outside.   Continue reading Open data: re-engaging

Open data and journalism

The relationship between open data and journalism is a complex one. No one questions the desirability of good journalism and the value of open data but both are under threat. British print circulation is falling, and for many titles by over 10% in a year and traditional revenue streams are under pressure. At the same time the momentum behind the British government’s open data movement shows signs of weakening as its impact is being questioned. They could help each other out. Harder stories based on real evidence (including open data) could make a contribution in halting the decline in journalism and open data. Sadly, in the UK, this seems unlikely to happen. If the private sector won’t seize the opportunity we should look to public sector broadcasting to set standards in quality and exciting journalism.  Continue reading Open data and journalism