The recent political coming and goings (the EU referendum, the arrival of a new Prime Minster and Labour’s travails) has seen a period of unusual attitudes to facts. More people seemingly want information and yet the (accurate) use of facts by politicians, some elements of the media and quite a few people has fallen to new lows. Experts are being rubbished, institutions’ reputations are being damaged, and the media is accused of being biased, prompting discussion of a post-truth society. There is much talk of a fractured Britain as technology and globalisation have hastened economic disruption affecting many livelihoods.
This note sets out a few steps – go local, kill the average, be open, do good research, un-spin and tell good stories – that the statistics world might take to help people reconnect with reality and help policy makers understand what might be needed if we are to establish a more sensible approach to debate and policy. It has much in common with the Data Manifesto published by the Royal Statistical Society two years ago. Continue reading Post-truth, post-Brexit statistics
The rise of migration to the UK has been one of the extraordinary stories of the last 20 or so years. A majority of Britons want migration to be lower and think (by six to one) that the Government’s policy towards it as been unsatisfactory. High migration was surely one of the main reasons why the referendum happened and why the “leave” camp won. Perhaps curiously, Mrs May, who has been Home Secretary for six years, is the odds-on favourite to be the next Prime Minister, despite having overseen a migration failure. She did not get to grips with the mismanagement of e-borders, promoted the conceptually ridiculous net immigration target, signed up to the “tens of thousands” manifesto pledge, and then missed it by a factor of around ten. Under her watch, there has been net immigration of 1.8m and gross immigration of nearly 3m despite a myriad of mini-adjustments to migration rules. Conservative party members who are concerned about migration will want to see a clear commitment from Mrs May to end free movement in Europe and introduce a new immigration system and work permits. Continue reading Mrs May’s record on immigration
UK Statistics Authority issued a statement today saying that it was “disappointed” in the way the £350m figure (of the cost of the UK’s EU membership) is being used and that it “undermines trust in official statistics”. I am sure that that much is true but it is also true that had UKSA presented the numbers “better” in the first place, the Leave campaign might never have used it in the way it has. UKSA could also have moved more quickly to clear up the ambiguity. Instead it left this statement to the 11th hour and risks making itself look political. A lesson should be learnt by all who feel that such numbers are important to democracy, accountability and good policy making. The reputation of numbers has taken a hit in this debate and every effort should be made to make sure they are presented properly in the future.
Continue reading £350m a week – how we got in this mess
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 June. Continue reading Trade statistics – are they good enough?
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
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
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
The statistics community must shout loud in the debate about Freedom of Information reform or access to data could be set back a generation. There are accepted rules and practices relating to transparency and openness of data and the Government and civil service are on a path to fulfilling them.
The Government can achieve what it wants from its review of the Freedom of Information Act – to make a “safe space” and keep secret some advice it receives – while making the foundations on which policy is made more transparent.
The news of the review was, understandably, received negatively but there is hope for some positive outcomes. It is time for the UK Statistics Authority to lead. Continue reading FoI Commission – Good for Stats?