The UK Statistics Authority has unveiled “Statistics for the Public Good” – the new strategy for the UK statistical system following a period of dramatic change during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This strategy is accompanied by five-year business plans for the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR), which spell out a direction of travel for official statistics in this country, ensuring that robust data continues to inform the public.

The strategy recognises a need for ever more local, frequent, up to date, accessible, relevant and coherent information to help the public, businesses and civil society. The opportunity for the Government Statistical Service to link multiple sources of data to come to the best answer has been greatly enhanced through new legislation and technology. It was announced in the budget earlier this year that the ONS will take a lead role in developing a new government wide online platform that will link large amounts of existing public data in one place to help inform decision making.  This forms a crucial part of the work that this strategy lays out.

Many of the issues facing us today cross departmental and geographical boundaries and the responses to them are organised in a collaborative way. ‘Statistics for the Public Good’ sets out the Authority’s plan to build flexible and integrated analytical capabilities and data management tools to address national priorities to enable the statisticians to manage data and deliver analysis that cuts across organisational boundaries – enabling joined up government through joined up data.

It lays out key principles to underpin this work, both in production and regulation committing the country’s statistical system to being more radical and ambitious when looking for new projects and to reach beyond what’s gone before. With a focus on partnerships and better use of existing data, the strategy makes a commitment to producing inclusive statistics that reflect the experiences of everyone in our society, ensuring everyone counts and no one is forgotten.

It also commits statisticians to being more proactive in tackling misinformation by speaking out publicly to ensure political debates remain well informed. The plans lay out a set of priorities to stand up for the public’s right to access statistics and data that exhibit trustworthiness, quality and value. OSR will, by championing high standards, uphold public confidence in statistics that serve the public good. This signals a radical shift from traditional static, collect-and-count approaches to statistics.

This launch follows a period of unprecedented change, seeing the design and implementation of the national COVID-19 Infection Survey in a matter of days and transforming the way data is collected and assessed following the pandemic.

Sir David Norgrove, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority said: “Since the pandemic started, the statistical system has adopted radically different ways of working. This has ensured we can provide the vital data needed to track the progress of the pandemic and asses its impact upon our society and economy. Faster, more relevant data from wider sources have supported critical decisions day after day. We want to capitalise upon these changes to further improve lives and guide the path to economic recovery.

“The past few months have shown what we’re capable of doing when there’s special pressure.  Now as we move we hope into more normal times we have to keep up the pace to bring together new sources of data to gain better understanding and improve lives.”

Professor Sir Ian Diamond, the UK’s National Statistician and Head of the Government Statistical Service, said: “I am very proud of the vital contribution my colleagues have made to the country’s pandemic response. Our statistics have become a vital tool for tracking the impact of COVID-19 and providing robust evidence for decision makers.

“By taking the best of what we’ve learnt during this time, I want to ensure that public statistics continue to push boundaries, providing new evidence that gives us the full picture when it comes to making the decisions that matter the most.   During my time as National Statistician I’ve been impressed by the quality of work produced by our teams and I know that we can achieve more.”

Ed Humpherson, Director General for Regulation and Head of OSR said “Providing trustworthy information to the public is not a nice-to-have. It’s one of the core responsibilities of Government organisations. Our regulatory work over the next 5 years will support producers of statistics and data in informing the public. And we will champion the benefits to the public of getting access to the best possible data and statistics.”

This strategy builds upon the last “Better Statistics, Better Decisions” strategy which laid out its own suggested improvements for statistics – many of which have now been surpassed. It comes as the Office for National Statistics prepares itself for the next Census in 2021.

You can read the full strategy and business plans for ONS and OSR on the UK Statistics Authority website.