Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-74)|
9 NOVEMBER 2005
Q60 Chairman: You recall what the target
was? It is 90%.
Mr Roberts: Yes, I do.
Q61 Chairman: What was the outcome? I
am looking for a figure.
Mr Roberts: I think it was in
the sixties. About 65% I think, but we can just check that. The
difficulty that we had last year was that demand was increasing
very rapidly, as you will have seen from the numbers. It was increasing
Q62 Chairman: For?
Mr Roberts: Certificates.
Q63 Chairman: You mean deaths and births
were higher than you thought?
Mr Roberts: No, no, no. The certificates
that we produce are generally of two sorts: the majority are for
genealogical purposes and there is also a lot of demand for people
who have lost their certificates and need them for applying for
passports and driving licences. The ones that are issued at the
event of a birth and a death are done by the local registration
service and not by ourselves. So that demand
Q64 Chairman: What was driving the increased
Mr Roberts: What has been driving
it is some of the tightening up of controls generally within the
economy, of money laundering and suchlike, where it is necessary
to have more access to your certificates, but the thing that really
caught us out last year was that when we recognised that we were
having problems on this one, we were taking steps to increase
capacity and we had introduced a night shift in the middle of
the year; we already had evening shifts and day shifts. We introduced
a night shift; we were taking steps to double capacity by an investment
and that came on-stream in January and February of this year,
but the thing that really caught us out was that, what was unfortunate
timing for us, was the BBC ran a genealogy series, Who Do You
Think You Are?, which increased demand for our certificates
about 40% overnight. We hit this enormous backlog in October,
when that series started, to January. We had got the new capacity
in in January and February, we had basically cleared the backlog
by about March and ever since we have been running absolutely
okay and well within our targets, but we just had that period.
When you ask what was it that caused it, it was basically a BBC
Q65 Chairman: Also your report identified
delivering services that are comparable with the best five statistical
offices worldwide, as one means of benchmarking your own performance.
Who measures who are the top five? How is that assessment based?
Ms Dunnell: I do not think there
is any standard published league table but certainly there is
a general idea across the international community about what the
best national statistics offices are but, of course, there are
many criteria by which we would judge whether or not an office
was in the top 10, as it were. For example, having a very wide
range of relevant outputs would be one thing, so for example I
believe that in the UK we would come out very well on that, because
compared with other countries we have a very wide portfolio of
both economic and social statistics. Then there is the whole issue
of public recognition and trust. Does the country's statistics
have that? Whether or not they display methodological leadership,
whether they have well designed and managed systems, whether their
surveys have good response rates, whether they are good value
for money; all those kinds of things.
Q66 Chairman: Sure, but the idea of being
in the top five was your idea. You said you wanted to be ranked
with the best five. Who are the best five, and where are we in
Ms Dunnell: Currently we do not
regard ourselves in the best five, which is why it is our aspiration
Q67 Chairman: So where are we?
Ms Dunnell: Somewhere between
six and 10, I would say. But, as I say, there is no standard league
Q68 Chairman: But it does not sound very
statistical, this. Who are regarded as the best five?
Ms Dunnell: Countries like Canada,
Australia and Sweden, for example, are the kinds of countries
that we often look to, to help us and advise us and so on, and
they do to us, of course, because we know different institutes
have different things that they are strong on.
Chairman: Now, I am moving towards the
end, but Susan Kramer has a couple more questions.
Q69 Susan Kramer: Interestingly enough,
the countries you have just mentioneddo they not all have
these independent statutory frameworks for their statistics offices,
and your comment on whether or not that is a key element, to be
able to get into the top five?
Ms Dunnell: Yes. It may be one
criterion that I did not get to in my long list, indeed. Yes,
it may well be and certainly Canada and Australia do have very
strong legal frameworks.
Q70 Susan Kramer: Of the list of things
you have outlined, getting into the top five, moving down the
interpretation pathway, communicating more effectively; how are
you going to do all of that and still deal with the required efficiency
gains? I think £25 million per annum by 2007 and 2008?
Ms Dunnell: Because we are already
quite well advanced with understanding how we are going to achieve
our efficiencies. Quite a lot of these efficiencies will be what
we call statistical improvements and we have already compiled
quite an enormous list of things that we have already done to
improve, particularly the scope and the quality of our statistics
over the last few years. Because statistics is one of those things
that always has to keep up to date and relevant, most surveys
and parts of the system have to improve all the time, so there
are ways of counting that. We also, of course, with the efficiency
challenge, have planned how we will achieve the benefits of our
whole modernisation programme which, after all, is not only geared
to improving statistics but geared to producing them quicker and
cheaper and so we have that plan worked out and that is what we
are moving towards. Hilary can say more about that.
Ms Douglas: We have a target,
like other government departments, that is part cash and part
non-cash or statistical benefits, as Karen described them, and
from our target we would expect probably about £14 million
of it to be cash and £11 million to be non-cash. The cash
savings are where you are delivering the same, or similar, output
at less cost, so that the money saved can be recycled. This is
all about reducing the costs of some of our activities whilst
maintaining the value of the output, so that we can resource some
of the other priorities that we have. We need to work out how
we do that in order to live within the overall resource envelope
that the Government has given us; the total resource that we have
for 2005-06 is simply trended forward into the next two years,
so we have had to start thinking very early on about how we can
do things differently in order to reduce the cost of delivering
the output, and we have been doing a lot of work on that already.
Q71 Chairman: You are here because you
are one of the Chancellor's Treasury departments; you report to
a Treasury minister and I think you said today you need more resources
or you are hoping for more resources from the Treasury. How are
you, as the new National Statistician, going to demonstrate to
the country your independence from the Treasury?
Ms Dunnell: That, indeed, is quite
challenging in the circumstances but I think it is quite clear
from many of the answers that, for example, Colin has given, that
the Treasury and our minister do not interfere with our statistical
decision-making. Getting that across when it comes into question
is another one of our communication challenges, I think.
Q72 Chairman: But how are you going to
demonstrate your independence? Never mind your telling us the
ministers do not interfere. How are you going to demonstrate your
Ms Dunnell: I think there are
many ways of doing that. We have a very large portfolio of publications
which I hope make it clear that we are reporting on the situation
of the economy and society in a way that is not influenced by
politics per se, because we have mechanisms of consulting
with a wide range of users, not just people in the Treasury, and
their views and so on, I think, come across in the direction that
our work travels in.
Q73 Chairman: How would you like to be
judged at the end of your term?
Ms Dunnell: I would like to have
the Office with all its modernised systems in place. I would like
us to be much leaner and meaner; I would like us to have achieved
a much more important place for statistics right across government
in the whole policy-making agenda and to be working in a much
more joined-up way with our economists and researchers and other
scientific colleagues, and I would hope that the general public
has a much better understanding of what percentage is, basically!
Q74 Chairman: We wish you well in that
latter task and, indeed, with the earlier ones and we shall look
forward to seeing you again in front of the Sub-Committee. Thank
you and your colleagues very much.
Ms Dunnell: Thank you.