Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
WEDNESDAY 1 MARCH 2000
JOHNSON MP, MR
40. You are talking about when the committee
was in place. I am asking about this transitional period.
(Miss Johnson) Already there are arrangements which
reflect the fact that we want to involve more people in this.
Obviously there has been a lot of consultation about the direction
in which we shall go, as a result of the White Paper, and a wide
number of people were involved in that.
41. Can I interrupt you? There has been no consultation
about the framework document.
(Miss Johnson) I said about the White Paper.
42. There has been no consultation with the
Royal Statistical Society about the appointments. Can you enlighten
me as to what consultation arrangements are in place?
(Mr Grice) It is perhaps worth saying that although
the Statistical Advisory Committee ceased to exist, a number of
user groups are still in existence for particular areas of statistics.
All those user groups that used to exist, still exist: for example,
the financial statistics user group and the business statistics
user group. Those user groups are still there and still provide
advice and input into the statistical process.
(Miss Johnson) The intention is to publish a paper
as soon as we can setting out how National Statistics priority
setting will be conducted. We also want to have planning organised
around 12 themes that will help to deliver "joined-up"
government in a modernising government agenda. As part of that
theme group user requirements will be determined for each theme
and to produce plans for delivering user requirements. We want
to feed that information up into the National Statistician's annual
strategic plan and work programme. So there will be wider than
ever before consultation in the planning process. Papers will
be made widely available using the Internet and other media. Users
will be able to contribute to the quality assurance aspects of
the work programme as well. User consultation plans are being
drawn up with the help of a group of wider user representatives
from outside Government. We could supply you with a list of members
if that would be helpful. I do not have the list with me.
43. I follow that. Those are the arrangements
and I am very pleased about that. Perhaps I am not making my question
clear. It seems to me that the period between when Dr Holt said
he was leaving and when the new arrangements will be in place
will be a tricky time to get through. There is no advisory committee
from which to take soundings. It seems odd that there is no advisory
(Miss Johnson) The decision in May 1999 pre-dates
my time in this post. I cannot comment on that this morning.
44. In the Treasury Committee's Second Special
Report we said, "In view of the many challenges facing the
ONS and the imminence of the decennial census, strong leadership,
from both its Director and from Ministers, is vital". The
Government's response was, "The Government agrees . . . that
the ONS will require ongoing ministerial support and direction
from senior management and it is confident that this will be delivered".
In the light of the arrangements that we are discussing at the
moment, such as Dr Holt hanging on until Len Cook arrives, no
advisory committee, no framework document yet, the commission
not yet in place, and the fact that you did not take part in the
appointment of Dr Holt's successor, do you think that the ONS
is getting the strong leadership that we hoped for?
(Miss Johnson) I believe so. Within ONS there is a
strong programme of continuing development in response to the
efficiency review and the average earnings index review and the
outcome of that. That has all been taken forward by existing management
in an energetic fashion. Obviously the organisation is working
towards the new arrangements. While those are not yet in placeyou
may say that is still the futureI am very well aware, as
I am sure you will appreciate, that if an organisation has a clear
description of where it is going and it knows that it will have
a further and enhanced role in the new arrangements, that tends
to fire people up, it increases morale and it spurs on activity.
I should also say that we have been lucky to appoint Alan Goldsmith,
who is here with me today, who is effectively director of operations.
He is Director of Finance and Corporate Affairs. In effect, he
deals with and is responsible for a lot of the operational matters
at a senior management level. The appointment of the Director
of Quality and Methodology is imminent. So a number of arrangements
have already been put in place. I think that the organisation
has made very good progress.
45. I am interested to hear that Mr Goldsmith
is here. We have been told that he was to attend as a witness
but had not been able to make it.
(Miss Johnson) He is here, yes. He is sitting behind
46. Perhaps he should come and sit at the table.
(Miss Johnson) I would be very happy for him to sit
at the table. I should have said that Dr Holt is currently at
a UN conference on statistics in the United States and so is not
47. Minister, your previous statistician resigned
in June last year. You will not replace him until the end of May.
The advisory committee has been wound up. There has been serious
doubt about some of the indices and there have been various inquiries
to which you have referred. Through all the dithering and incompetence
have you not left the service in limbo?
(Miss Johnson) On the contrary. To say that the previous
statistician resigned in June last year is inaccurate. He indicated
that he would leave when we had a new statistician in the post
being created under the new arrangements. Indeed, those arrangements
are still in place. There has been no break in terms of the head
of the service. Dr Holt has been there for some time. He is well
regarded and he is continuing to lead the service forward at the
moment. In terms of the progress that we have made, obviously
we have set out that there will be a Statistics Commission, we
have set out its role, the fact that it will be an advisory NDPB,
and that its purpose is to ensure greater independence, transparency
and accountability with respect to national statistics to strengthen
priority setting and responsiveness to all users and to ensure
high quality and professional standards. The Government are clear
that the commission will need to be seen to be independent, embody
a good understanding of statistical issues and embody the value
of trustworthy statistics in democratic debate. All those things
have provided a positive focus to the work that is going on at
the moment. The appointment of Len Cook, the setting up of the
commission that is now well under way and will be concluded shortly,
being clear about the purpose of the commission, developing a
website and tackling the issues identified from the issues that
ONS needed to address and has addressed, are all things that take
forward the organisation in a positive direction over the period
that you are talking about.
48. I shall turn to the commission in a moment.
On the appointment of the National Statistician, when the Chief
Inspector for Schools is appointed that is a matter for Ministers,
is it not?
(Miss Johnson) Yes. I think it is actually a matter
for the Prime Minister. I stand to be corrected. I think it is
an appointment made possibly in conjunction with the Secretary
of State for Education and Employment. I certainly think it is
an appointment where the accountability is to the Prime Minister.
49. Ministers are involved, are they not?
(Miss Johnson) I cannot confirm that because I am
not absolutely certain, but I believe that you are probably right
in saying that, yes.
50. Why did you leave this equally important
job to the Permanent Secretary? Why were you not involved?
(Miss Johnson) There was a discussion about this.
I have taken the decision to be involved in the appointment of
the chair of the commission but I did not think it was particularly
appropriate for me to be involved in the appointment of the head
of the profession, as it were. For that I wanted people who were
in a position to assess the quality of that individual in statistical
and professional terms. I believe it is appropriate that I should
be involved in the appointment of the chair of the commission.
I shall not be involved in the appointments of the other commission
members. We hope that once the chair is appointed, he or she will
be involved with the appointments of the remaining members of
the commissionalmost in my place. The position with the
commission is different from that of the National Statistician.
You can argue it either way, as I can imagine people doing so.
Earlier I indicated that it is either a good thing for a Minister
to be involved or a bad thing.
51. In your own White Paper you said that the
whole object of the exercise was to introduce more openness and
transparency. Now you have told us that the statistical community
and the Royal Statistical Society were excluded from the process
of appointment; you did not take part in it and the whole thing
was left to the Permanent Secretary and his friends.
(Miss Johnson) Ultimately, the appointment of Len
Cook was approved on the recommendation of the Chancellor by the
Prime Minister. To that degree a high level ministerial sanction
was involved. I have certainly not just said what you have attributed
to me. Perhaps you could repeat it as my brain is a little tired.
52. Your White Paper spoke of introducing transparency
and openness into this process. You have told the Committee that
the statistical community was excluded, that the Royal Statistical
Society was not involved, that you yourself did not sit in on
the appointment process and that the whole thing was left to the
Permanent Secretary and his friends.
(Miss Johnson) Perhaps I should clarify that David
Bartholomew, who was involved, is an ex-President of the Royal
Statistical Society and a member of the council of that society.
Quite contrary to what you said originally, we had a very senior
and highly regarded statistician involved in the appointment.
I am bemused by your concern.
53. Let us move on to the role of the National
Statistician. We have to ask you these questions because you have
not published the framework that you said you would publish. Having
already appointed the National Statistician, will you define for
us his role and responsibilities? You can probably help the Committee
best by saying how that role and those responsibilities are different
from Dr Holt's role and responsibilities.
(Miss Johnson) The National Statistician will have
a duty to maintain and demonstrate the integrity of National Statistics.
One of the differences is that National Statistics does not currently
exist and the arrangements there will be different. The National
Statistician will have authority to determine whether or not a
statistical output meets National Statistics' requirements and
a responsibility for the timing of the release and the content
and format of the release. As I mentioned earlier, we envisage
the National Statistician being the key to developing the new
code of practice. That will be an articulation or a demonstration
of the integrity and professionalism of the new statistics and
will ensure that there is a freedom from political interference.
Indeed, the National Statistician will have a right of access
in terms of integrity issues directly to the Prime Minister should
he wish to exercise that at any time.
54. Which of those responsibilities is different
from Dr Holt's responsibilities?
(Mr Grice) The easiest way that I have found to think
about this is that National Statistics is a new concept which
means that we can apply much more systematically mechanisms to
get us to what we regard as the two key elements of statistical
integrity: firstly, assured quality, higher quality across the
board, and secondly, freedom from interference in a user-focused
way. We are putting in place a number of mechanisms that will
underpin National Statistics, with much more seamless planning
across departments in each of the areas, and the National Statistician
will be the professional responsible for that whole process. It
is a much thicker and more comprehensive process than we have
at the moment. Dr Holt is the current head of the Government's
Statistical Service as well as being Director of the Office for
National Statistics. He is the chief professional, but within
that rather more limited mechanism that we currently have for
achieving those two components of statistical integrity.
55. It is a wider-ranging role?
(Mr Grice) It is a wider-ranging role.
56. Will Mr Cook, as the National Statistician,
be more independent than Dr Holt, as the director of the office?
(Miss Johnson) In his role he will have direct access
to the Prime Minister, as is laid down in the arrangements, which
Dr Holt has in terms of the way things work, but it is perhaps
not so clearly laid out. Specifically, that is a provision that
we are making in the new arrangements. Also he will have the support
of the Statistics Commission, in terms of his role. There will
be a body whose job it will be to ensure that National Statistics
is free from political interference and has the high quality outputs
and data that you would expect of the service that we are looking
57. I shall come to the commission, but I want
to focus on the statistician. Dr Holt already has access to the
Prime Minister. How will the new statistician's access to the
Prime Minister be different?
(Miss Johnson) It will be clearly laid out that he
will have access and if he has any concerns about integrity it
will be clear that he will have direct recourse to the Prime Minister.
58. Dr Holt has that at the moment.
(Miss Johnson) Yes. I am not sure that it is so clearly
articulated. In practice he has always had it. He would be the
first to acknowledge that. It is not articulated in the way in
which we have clearly made it part of the new arrangements.
59. On specific access to the Prime Minister,
in your October paper you said that he would continue to have
access to the Prime Minister on matters concerning integrity and
validity. Does that include scope?
(Miss Johnson) His likely prime point of contact with
the Prime Minister would be if he had concern about the integrity
of the statistics.