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.
Here’s a bit more on the potential of big data and administrative data, in particular data linkage, in the work of national statistical agencies. I am prompted by a journal landing on the door step in which leading statisticians set out the case for the use of big data. It has given me a renewed sense of optimism that there could be innovative and better statistics to come even if budgets are under threat and traditional methods are suffering. Continue reading More on big data ….. data linkage
What’s the difference between statisticians and data scientists in the context of the government statistical service (GSS)? There are differences in technical skills between the two but they can be bridged. The important difference might be more to do with the individual mindset of most data scientists and the organisational culture they seek – that might be the problem faced by the civil service when it comes to recruitment and retention. Continue reading Data scientist or statistician?
The Bean Review of government statistics will assess what the public sector data machine needs to make it fit for purpose for the next decade or two. The regulatory framework and outputs are part of that but at the core is a question about sources: how can big data, open data and administrative data help deliver more and new accurate statistics, in a more timely fashion and for less money. This note tries to unravel what these terms might mean for the Government Statistical Service (GSS). It concludes that there is an imperative to investigate the possibilities and that the Bean review can ensure that the required development work is supported at the highest level in government. Continue reading Big, open and admin – what’s what for government statistics?
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. Continue reading The decline in UKSA annual reporting