4 Statistics on demand |
33. Producers of Official Statistics will generally
produce simple statistical tables on request, as long as these
do not cost too much time or money to produce; these are known
as "ad hoc statistics". More complex analysis or data
may be provided and sometimes at a fee. ONS alone responds to
around 13,000 requests each year for additional analysis or tables.
34. There is some suggestion from users that
the provision of data and tailored analysis can be problematic.
In their written evidence Full Fact wrote:
Ad-hoc requests for data are dealt with inconsistently
by the ONS. Sometimes staff will respond with data immediately,
sometimes a request will be diverted into the FOI [Freedom of
Information] process and at other times we must submit an FOI
request to get any headway. From the outside, there appears to
be little consistency in, or explanation of, the reasons for these
...Of particular concern is that we have had topical
requests turned into FOI requests, which are slow to process.
It seems to us that requests which would illuminate a current
topic of public debate should be prioritised.
The Market Research Society wrote:
Ad hoc output has not been very significant for commercial
users. The technical process of producing such output has had
limitations, timetables can be long and uncertain, definitions
used in official statistics may differ from those used elsewhere,
statistical disclosure control tends to restrict detail, and poor
value for money may discourage commissions.
35. The release of statistics and data in this
way is part of a wider Government agenda to be more open with
the information it holds. We were told by Nick Hurd MP that there
was now "more transparency and accountability around the
process [of applying for and generating ad hoc statistics]"
and that the Government "takes some pride [...] in trying
to establish a reputation for being the most transparent Government
In June 2012, the Government published its Open Data Command
Paper, stating "we are determined that all of us can reap
the benefits of transparency and data sharing in the future".
We have undertaken to look at the issue of open data in
more detail as part of our programme of work on statistics and
their use in government.?
36. Andrew Dilnot told us that "of course
people want more access and more responses. The best thing would
be for our website and our data release to be such that the number
of ad hoc requests fell because people had direct access themselves,
and more and more that is the case. More and more of our data
are being published in an accessible form, in an electronically
accessible form, and we want to go further down that road [...]
one of the very first acts that I took was to agree that we would
publish much more of the outcomes of these ad hoc requests than
we used to".
37. Finding information which has been released
under an ad hoc request is also not straightforward. The ONS website
lists such information in a number of different locations: under
Freedom of Information, published ad hoc data, data available
on request and the publication scheme. These are not easily searchable.
Only a small proportion of the 13,000 requests annually appear
to be published.
38. The fact that so much unpublished
data sits in Government naturally leads to a steady flow of requests
for information which in turn puts the statisticians under avoidable
resource pressure. Government statisticians should aim for
the best practice that has been adopted in other parts of the
public sector, namely to publish anything that can be put in the
public domain. It would be expected that requests for additional
data would fall sharply as, over time, less and less would rest
hidden waiting to be requested.
39. We welcome the efforts made
by the Statistics Authority to be transparent with ad hoc requests
for data. However, the way in which such requests are processed
and presented are still a cause for concern by users. We recommend
that the Statistics Authority review the ways in which statistics
and underlying data are drawn up and communicated, and that it
draw up expected standards for ad hoc data which government departments
should be expected to comply with when publishing statistical
information, which should be in formats which meet users' needs.
35 Letter from Andrew Dilnot, Chair, UK Statistics
Authority, to Will Moy, Director, Full Fact, 18 April 2012, published
on www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk, Reports and Correspondence Back
Ev 46 Back
Ev 33 Back
Q25, Q28 Back
HM Government, Open Data White Paper Unleashing the Potential,
June 2012 Back
See www.parliament.uk/pasc under Inquiries - statistics Back
Q124, Q125 Back