The media coverage of the results of the local elections (in May 2019) has at times been deeply misleading with voting outcomes not being accurately described. The problem is two-fold. First, the usual way of presenting the figures – in terms of seats, percentage share of the vote and swings – can give a very misleading impression. It has on this occasion as the usual metrics have been distorted by the plummeting turnout compared to 2015 (when the turnout was high due to the General Election). No one single summary statistic can be relied upon in all circumstances. Second, it is nigh on impossible to get the actual voting figures. The country deserves a central publication point for election data to allow anyone to do their own, neutral, assessment of the trends. The time has come for the UK to have more transparency about its election results – surely one of the most fundamental of all statistics – as befits a developed democracy. Without this, the voters are unlikely to get a fair sense of the results given much of the interpretation is being done by politicians or columnists skilful enough to select their factoids to suit their own story or others who are innumerate, wilfully or naively ignorant of the facts, or producing projections from black box models.
The RPI scandal has been a slow motion car crash since 2010. The nation’s most well-used and well-known statistic has been subjected to silly mistakes in production, weak and indecisive management, too much political influence and misuse, an overbearing economist mindset, more dogma than imagination, limited innovation, and mixed messages from those supposedly in control. This sad story with resulting confusion for users reflects a fundamental failure of governance. This blog provides a one-stop shop for anyone looking to understand the governance, or lack of it. The next chapter in this saga will come later this week with the publication of the House of Lords report into the RPI. Continue reading RPI – the background to the scandal
I can see why many individual British businesses with established exports to the EU want the country to stay in the single market. The UK’s departure from it will be a change and, while the future might or might not offer more trading opportunities, change diverts corporate attention and can be disruptive. That said, from a national perspective – UK plc – the statistics show that the single market has increasingly been operating against the economic interests of the UK as a whole. In that macro sense, looking at the data, the single market is bad news as it’s driving the country’s ever-widening trade balance in goods. Continue reading The UK’s “single market trade deficit”
We all have a small number of people who heavily influence us. One of the big influences on my statistical thinking was Ray Thomas. I met him when we volunteered on several RSS committees. Sadly he died earlier this year. Links to some obituaries are below but his PhD thesis from 1999 is worth a read. The language and terms might be dated but “Statistics as facts about society” deals with many of the issues that plague us today. Continue reading Ray Thomas
What’s wrong with Simon, the name that is? It’s a good name. I’ve enjoyed having it. But it is seriously out of fashion and has been for a while. Prompted by the weird experience of finding myself sitting next to a much younger one at an event earlier this week, I was keen to see just how unpopular we have become. The answer is very unpopular. Continue reading The end of Simon
I spoke at an event about the Retail Prices Index (RPI) last week and made three points – that there is a misunderstanding about the formula effect, ONS is too influenced by economists’ ‘group think’ and weaknesses in governance. These can all be resolved easily, returning RPI to full use, if ONS and UKSA wants to. It was widely agreed that “the mess” had to be sorted out, and as the RPI cannot be killed off some modest changes to it are required. Continue reading The truth about the RPI – some brief comments
This is about a bad trend in some questionable data: the official data says that the UK has a huge balance of trade deficit in goods, it’s getting worse and the driving force behind the trend has been the growing deficit with the EU. True? Probably. This trade deterioration needs to be noted, diagnosed, discussed as part of the Brexit negotiations and reversed. Continue reading The UK’s trade deficit in goods
The RPI has recently been subjected to a sustained bout of unfair criticism from politicians and commentators. Despite this, the judge in the recent BT pensions case deemed that the RPI had not “become inappropriate” and that BT had no grounds for moving a group of their pensioners to the CPI which gives generally lower upratings. The RPI is, therefore, still fit for purpose. This was a relief to me – I was the expert witness arguing in favour of the RPI – if not a surprise. The full story as to how we got to the situation where so many people (mostly, it must be said, economists and the powerful and self-interested trying to cut their costs) are doing the RPI down is yet to be told. The decision was important for the pensioners as their incomes would not be unjustifiably cut. It was also a good day for common sense, and for the RPI, one of the country’s longest-standing, most trusted and widely-used statistics. The Thales and BT rulings taken together provide food for thought for those who continue to damage the reputation of the RPI without looking beyond the mantras and sloppy headlines. Continue reading RPI: Still fit for purpose
The earnings figures are very important and politically sensitive, yet the trends are highly uncertain and poorly presented by ONS. The poor presentation by the ONS centres on the failure to remove compositional changes and present earnings growth on a like-for-like basis. This has not only led to an overly pessimistic view of what’s happening in the real world but means that political and media attention has been diverted from the real issues in the labour market.
The ONS published a welcome note yesterday updating the progress being made with statistics on the migration patterns of international students coming to the UK. It gave a fairly upbeat impression but really only laid bare how little we as a nation know about these students. New statistics are needed – and requiring all students to get a National Insurance Number would be a good start and might even be part of the post-Brexit changes. Lets hope that the ONS and UKSA Board are in there arguing for such changes. The article also had a graphic that was misleading and below the standards that we might expect from the ONS. Continue reading International student migration – ONS update