Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-159)|
WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2002
140. I am sure I will.
(Mr Cook) With further criticism.
Chairman: We will, do not worry.
Mr Mudie: Just on pensions, your middle name
must be Teflon really because you cannot get away with just brushing
it aside. This is one of the hottest issues in politics in this
country, the amount of money going into pensions. The opposition
spokesman has been going on for months that it is more than the
figure the Government has been given.
Chairman: He is right.
Mr Mudie: Yes, he turns out to be right. You
turn out to release a figure that is 43 million out. You just
brush it away.
141. Yes, billion.
(Mr Cook) Firstly, can I say I do not seek great comfort
from your comment I am Teflon, I think I am the most abused civil
servant in the United Kingdom.
142. They all say that.
(Mr Cook) In fact the comments that come out of this,
those which are more ignorant and offensive, are not ones that
I enjoy at all particularly. You can rest assured that if I was
made of Teflon I would probably be more comfortable.
143. You are still in your job. You severely
embarrass a minister on a major item of policy by releasing a
figure that is 100 per cent wrong and you are still in your job.
You are a lucky man.
(Mr Cook) Can I be clear the figure was quite correct.
The precise statement of the figure was contained in a footnote
to a table rather than the heading of it and it had been that
way for 20-odd years.
144. It was £43 billion out. Mr Cook, the
key element of pensions at the moment is how much money is going
(Mr Cook) Yes.
145. There is a difference between £43
billion going in, that is slightly up on the year before, and
£84 billion which suggests all the Government's problems
and all the country's future problems on pensions are solved.
You came out with the 84. This is why you are Teflon, you did
not really come out with it, did you? You slipped out a press
release on 10 October not mentioning your error. You covered it
up in best spin doctor fashion with a review and you did not mention
the fact that it had been done so badly.
(Mr Cook) I can disagree with that. I produced a report
that was announced well in advance. I stated that I would produce
a report which came out. It was quite a clear analysis of the
problems. It was a very open statement of what we got wrong. I
am sorry, I think you have a very clear assessment of the problems
that arose, why they arose, the impact and the way ahead in terms
of what we were proposing to do.
146. Who gave The Times on 22 October
the story? When did you put out a press release on this? The press
release we have got is 10 October and it does not mention this.
It does not mention the amounts. I am just asking. You said you
came out and told everybody, well when did you tell them? What
date was the press release?
(Mr Cook) The whole report was released. The report
was released, it may have been 10 October, I cannot tell you.
Sorry, it was 10 October. The whole report was released then with
a comprehensive table.
Mr Mudie: I bet it was thick and buried away
was the £40 billion. You shake your head. Tell me where in
your press release did you admit that you were 40 billion out?
Nowhere. Mr Teflon Cook, I suggest, how do you get away with it?
147. He has not.
(Mr Cook) Firstly, I disagree that I have got away
148. You are still in your job, you are still
receiving a six figure salary. What more do you want? Have you
been disciplined? Have you been admonished?
(Mr Cook) I have been abused, certainly.
149. We will not go into those sorts of things,
Mr Cook. Right. Shall we go on to GDP, regional development. What
is happening with you and the Statistics Commission over the question
of regional figures? Do you have concerns about the quality of
regional data? Do you think it is sufficient? Do you think it
fits the purposes for which it is used? I will give you a second
question but they are all matters which the Statistics Commission
is not very happy with, so what do you say in response?
(Mr Cook) The demands for regional statistics in the
United Kingdom have increased probably every couple of years more
significantly than before. For example, the existence of devolution
in Wales and Scotland has created a shift in interest in producing
country wide measures of things which traditionally we did not
produce. For example, we produce regional GDP measures annually
and Scotland and Northern Ireland produce quarterly GDP measures
also based on industrial outputs. There is an interest in Wales
in doing the same. The other aspect to it is the neighbourhood
statistic project, the urban renewal activities.
150. I have read that.
(Mr Cook) In that respect there is a large amount
of work put into increasing the quality of regional statistics.
Underneath it all there has been a major shift in statistics to
create a more effective, consistent long term geographic framework
for statistics of the United Kingdom. At the moment we have well
over 160 different areas in the UK, there are pretty much no administrative
areas which are the same. What we have developed in the 2001 Census
is a common geography for the United Kingdom that we want to carry
through for at least the following two Censuses which will bring
together data from a large variety of sources into common areas.
In each of the Census output areas there are roughly 200 households.
That will be a common geography which will try and tie together
the statistical data we get from administrative survey sources
151. Mr Cook, I specifically asked you did you
have concerns about the clarity of the regional data. Does that
answer mean yes, you do have?
(Mr Cook) I think we have to do more, yes. I think
we have to produce more and there is a large amount of work in
my office in producing more. Demands have increased, yes.
152. This Committee is looking at regional GDP
etc and we are very concerned about that so we share the concern.
(Mr Cook) Can I say, the regional GDP we produce is
of a similar standard to the European data.
153. I am coming on to that. The second question
I asked you, so you share that concern, do you think the regional
data is fit for the purpose for which it is used?
(Mr Cook) I cannot speak for all uses. The data that
we produce is responding to increased demands and I think that
for what we have now, for what those needs are, we have to produce
more detailed information. Can I give you an example. Our labour
force survey at the moment produces estimates for regions at quite
a highly aggregated level. There is a demand for us to produce
it for territorial local authority areas and, rather than collecting
more information, what we are doing is we are modelling other
administrative sources to be able to take that data down.
154. For the record, for us, for the Treasury,
for the DTI and for the Statistics Commission, which area do you
admit it is deficient in?
(Mr Cook) I think the area we will be doing the most
work is in the area of economic statistics. That is where, for
example, we would look in the future to use tax data as a source
to drive more detailed information rather than statistical surveys.
155. Now, as I understand this note, the Statistics
Commission undertook a short study and they said they identified
five topics they wanted to be covered in an ONS review of regional
accounts. You agreed four but not the fifth. Now why are you jibbing
at the fifth? There is some question of resources. Having said
that I notice you are happy to put resources in when Number 10
asks you to do something at a neighbourhood level but when other
people want something done on regional you are crying no resources.
(Mr Cook) Number 10 was able to provide the resources
for the work on neighbourhood statistics.
156. Just on Number 10, can you tell the Committee
are you looking at doing a 2006 Census?
(Mr Cook) No, we have come to the conclusion
157. You have looked at it?
(Mr Cook) We looked at the issue and decided that
there were other things we could do which would substantively
meet the needs of a 2006 Census given the cost of a 2006 Census.
If we do a 2006 Census it will mean over a 10 year period there
will be nearly 40 per cent of the British budget on official statistics
as it comes into my Department which will be allocated to two
158. As I understand this now, looking back
at this, the fifth issue you will not touch, the Department are
doing it themselves, but the Statistics Commission wanted you
to do that. Now are you still adamant you are not going to do
it, the effects of GDP deflators?
(Mr Cook) Firstly, we believe that we can improve
the accuracy of regional GDP more by other things we can do in
terms of the current value of GDP and its allocation to regions.
In terms of the value for money that we have, we believe we can
continue to improve regional GDP in that way. Secondly, there
is a huge amount of regional prices which are essentially national
prices, and that is increasing in terms of our ability to measure
price change not price level. The third point, we are seeing as
administrative data in private sector data the ability for us
to get price data more and more cheaply over time. We expect that
the same developments which are giving us more cost effective
access to administrative data will allow us over time to get ready
access to quite rich price databases. The whole economics of that
question is going to change over the next five years.
Chairman: Mr Cook, we are moving towards the
end now. We have two final questions.
159. Following on George Mudie's question, one
of the aims of Government economic policy is to bring up productivity
in different regions and if we do not have the GDP deflators,
that is the fifth one Mr Mudie has been talking about, how can
we measure reasonably productivity in different regions?
(Mr Cook) At this stage the gross domestic product
measure that we provide is based on the GDP of the United Kingdom
allocated by income shares to the different regions. That is a
method that is in common with other European Union countries.