Pretty much everyone thinks it’s a good idea to have more economists (code for analytical capability) at the ONS but opinion divides when there’s discussion as to what they should be doing. There is a need to have people who can acquire and probe exiting data assets to make them sweat in the spirit of the Bean Review. In contrast, there is no need for the ONS to have any more descriptive writing and (sometimes dumbed-down) publications that serve some unspecified need. That would be a wasted opportunity. There is a risk that the hiring of large numbers of economists in a hurry, mostly in their early careers, as opposed to curious souls with experience, will lead the ONS down the wrong path. Meanwhile economists outside government need to start making the case for better statistics. Continue reading Economists at the ONS
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The interim Bean review was mainly about setting a course for the future. It did that well and will prove to be a landmark report. In setting out his concerns about the recent past and present Prof Bean exposed some revealing facts. Of course the report is about the data but half of it was about ONS “effectiveness”. As he said: “users noted that this Review would not have been commissioned if all had been well”. (Para 3.25) It’s a line I had used and it is now clear that all was indeed not well. This blog picks out some soundbites from the report that are worthy of note. The second report (in March) will be about governance. Reading what follows makes it hard to imagine that things are going to stay the same. Continue reading Bean: “I’m queasy”
The eagerly awaited review of government statistics by Professor Sir Charles Bean, published this morning, is an landmark report that should help the ONS refocus on core activities and do them more professionally. It advocates access to new data sources and the use of state of the art technologies.
The report sets out the problems that the ONS has had in recent years – some elements of which are shocking – and says that a cultural shift is required for change. It is an opportunity for all stakeholders and users to debate ONS work priorities priorities in advance of Bean’s final report in March. That report will tackle governance arrangements. Given the state the stats are in and the task list now facing the ONS, UKSA is going to have to change if it is to survive in its current format. Continue reading Bean: initial findings
This blog proposes a change in the way the UK Statistics Authority operates. Pretty much anyone (outside UKSA) who has a view on the matter feels that it is not operating how it was envisaged at the time of the legislation. With very modest cost (and without revisiting the Act) the UKSA board could implement a structure with clearer responsibilities and greater effectiveness. The reinvigorated stakeholder relationships with enhanced transparency and trust would set up the government statistics machine to play a central role in producing data both for policy making and the public good. Statistics should be about so much more than producing the same figures as last year and the Bean review can point the service in that direction. Continue reading UKSA structure – change and deliver
What happened to government statistics in the spending review? Err, it’s hard to know. It looks like good news but some uncertainties remain.