The UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) was created in 2008 as a statutory body to promote and safeguard the production and publication of official statistics that serve the public good. Serving the public good is understood to mean that users of statistics have the data they need to make informed decisions, whether they be in government, business, the third sector or the general public. There are indications that public trust in official statistics has improved since UKSA was created, but UKSA does not understand who all of today’s users of official statistics are or how they use statistics. UKSA must engage more effectively with existing and potential users, ensuring the Government Statistical Service is producing statistics that are easy to access and relevant, while closing gaps in data.
UKSA has a dual role, which presents UKSA with challenges about the governance of statistics and of its own governance. UKSA is both the UK’s largest single producer of official statistics through its Office for National Statistics (ONS), and also the independent assessor of all official statistics, through its Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR). The governance challenges arising from this dual role would be best resolved by giving responsibility for production and regulation to separate bodies. This would require changes to the legislation.
Without fresh legislation, much can still be done to improve the governance of UKSA. UKSA should separate OSR from ONS into a different location and distinct functions. It must also be better resourced to be proactive; exercising effective and timely regulation across the whole statistical system. It should use its power to lay reports in Parliament to highlight the most significant concerns about statistical practice.
UKSA has banned the pre-release of ONS statistics; this ban should be extended to all official statistics across government. UKSA must clarify the roles and accountability structures of all players in the statistical system, to be in line with international best practice which has now overtaken the UK. UKSA should have greater transparency of decision making, should publish work plans for the whole statistical service and must report to this Committee on progress in improving governance and addressing the big issues facing the statistical system.
The long-running issue of RPI has exposed the weakness in UKSA’s governance of official statistics. UKSA’s response to the Lords inquiry on measuring inflation, promised in April, has still not been delivered, raising doubts about UKSA’s independence from the Government as the regulator. UKSA should publish its recommendation for addressing the shortcomings of RPI immediately.
Since the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 led to the creation of UKSA, emerging digital technologies have led to a wealth of new sources of data to inform the nation. New sources also bring new risks to be managed, such as protecting personal data and assuring trustworthy sources of data. Strong leadership at all levels of the statistical system is needed to exploit the potential of data to transform government and to shape a statistical service that is responsive to users and informs decision-makers in a changing world.
UKSA is due to appoint a new National Statistician. This appointment and UKSA’s next 5 year strategy will be crucial to addressing the important governance issues raised in this report and to shape a world class statistical system that is fit to serve the future needs of the UK.
Published: 18 July 2019