UK Statistics Authority Board minutes – 26 November 2020

Agenda

1Presentation from Chief Executive and Registrar General for Northern Ireland Statistics and Research AgencyMs Siobhan Carey
2Minutes and matters arising from previous meetings
Declarations of interest
Meeting of 29 October 2020
3Report from the Authority ChairOral report - Sir David Norgrove
4Report from the Chief ExecutiveSA(20)68 - Prof. Sir Ian Diamond
5Strategic Business Plan updateSA(20)69 - Mr Nick Bateson
6Report from the Director-General for RegulationSA(20)70 - Mr Ed Humpherson
7Report from Committee Chair
Audit and Risk Assurance Committee
Oral report - Ms Nora Nanayakkara
8Strategic ReviewSA(20)71 - Mr Nick Bateson
9COVID-19 Infection Survey and Surveillance StudiesSA(20)72 -Ms Emma Rourke Mr Iain Bell
12.50-13.00Break 10 mins
10EU TransitionSA(20)73 - Mr Will Laffan
11Interventions PolicySA(20)74 - Ms Mary Gregory Mr Ed Humpherson
12Integrated Data ProgrammeSA(20)75 - Ms Alison Pritchard
13Census and Data Collection Transformation ProgrammeSA(20)76 - Mr Iain Bell
Ms Nicola Tyson-Payne
14Any Other Business

Minutes – Thursday 26 November 2020

Present:

  • Sir David Norgrove (Chair)
  • Ms Sian Jones (Deputy Chair)
  • Ms Sam Beckett
  • Ms Helen Boaden
  • Professor Sir Ian Diamond
  • Mr Richard Dobbs
  • Professor David Hand
  • Professor Jonathan Haskel
  • Mr Ed Humpherson
  • Ms Nora Nanayakkara
  • Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter

Also in attendance:

  • Mr Jonathan Athow
  • Mr Nick Bateson
  • Mr Iain Bell
  • Mr Owen Brace
  • Mr Robert Bumpstead
  • Mr Douglas Cameron (Secretariat)
  • Mr Duane Carey (for item 6)
  • Mr Raf Cobb (for item 6)
  • Mr Phillip Davies (for item 6)
  • Ms Sarah Fisher (for item 6)
  • Ms Steffi Gijji (for item 6)
  • Ms Megan Green (for item 6)
  • Ms Mary Gregory (for item 12)
  • Ms Sally-Ann Jones (Secretariat)
  • Mr Will Laffan (for item 11)
  • Ms Zoe Moore (for item 6)
  • Ms Alison Pritchard
  • Ms Emma Rourke (for item 10)
  • Ms Palvi Shah (for item 6)
  • Mr Bill South (for item 6)
  • Ms Ruth Studley (for item 6)
  • Mr James Tierney (for item 6)
  • Ms Nicola Tyson-Payne (for item 14)
  • Ms Amy Williams (Secretariat)

Apologies

  • Professor Anne Trefethen

1. Presentation from the Northern Ireland Statistics Research Agency (NISRI)
1.1 Sir David welcomed Ms Siobhan Carey, (Chief Executive and Registrar General, NISRA) and Mr Chris Ganley to the meeting.
1.2 The Board heard about the priorities and challenges facing NISRA, including the work on EU Exit analyses and with ONS on the 2021 Census.
1.3 The Board and Sir Ian noted their thanks to Ms Carey and Mr Ganley for an excellent presentation.
2. Apologies
2.1 Apologies were received from Professor Anne Trefethen.
3. Declarations of interest
3.1 Mr Dobbs had noted a conflict of interest regarding the COVID-19 Infection Survey agenda item in advance of the meeting.
4. Minutes and matters arising from previous meetings
4.1 The minutes of the previous meeting held on 29 October 2020 were agreed.
5. Report from the Authority Chair
5.1 Non-executive directors had met prior to the Board. They had discussed statistical quality and legacy transformation.
5.2 The Chair reported on his recent activity since the Board last met:
i. Sir David had discussed the transparency and communication of data related to COVID-19 with Prof. Chris Whitty, ahead of Mr Humpherson’ s letter to Prof. Whitty on 5 November;
ii. Sir David had met Mr Andrew Bailey, Governor of the Bank of England on 9
November;
iii. Sir David alongside Sir Ian had met Welsh Government Officials on 10 November to discuss the Authority strategy; and
iv. on 25 November Sir David and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had responded to the joint consultation on reforming the methodology of the Retail Prices Index (RPI).
The Chancellor had acknowledged the statistical case for the Authority’s proposed changes to the RPI, but was unable to offer his consent to the implementation before 2030. It was noted that it is the Authority’s policy to address the shortcomings of the RPI in full at the earliest practical time. The change proposed could legally and practically be made by the Authority in February 2030.
5.3 Sir David Spiegelhalter reported on his attendance, in a personal capacity, at the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee Data Transparency and Accountability: COVID-19 Inquiry on 24 November. Both Prof. David Hand and Prof. Trefethen had e-visited the Data Science Campus on 11 November, and agreed the content of the report that Prof Hand presented.
6. Report from the Chief Executive [SA(20)68]
6.1 Sir Ian provided the Board with an overview of activity and issues for November, highlighting the following:
i. the ONS-Health Data Research UK partnership continued to make good progress on the COVID-19 National Core Studies Programme. It was enabling the UK to use health data and research to inform decision making, as well as accelerating progress to establish a health data and research infrastructure for the future;
ii. with regard to improving access to health data the ONS continued to hold meetings with NHS Digital;
iii. the developments to migration statistics using alternative data sources;
iv. the forthcoming Lancet Public Health paper in relation to the COVID-19 Infection Survey; and
v. the recently published report by the Economic Centre of Excellence on the Public Understanding of Economics and Economic Statistics.
6.2 At this point the following members of the cross-directorate CIS team joined the meeting: Ms Ruth Studley, Ms Palvi Shah, Mr Raf Cobb, Ms Steffi Gijji, Ms Megan Green, Mr James Tierney, Ms Sarah Fisher, Mr Bill South, Ms Zoe Moore, Mr Phillip Davies and Mr Duane Carey. Sir Ian reported on the significant achievement by the team on CIS statistics to support and inform decision making. Sir David commended all those involved for working ‘above and beyond’ to produce the data, noting that the
Board was ‘proud’ of the achievement and all those involved.
7. Report from the Director General for Regulation [SA(20)70]
7.1 Mr Humpherson provided an update on regulation activity since the last meeting. Mr Humpherson reported progress of OSR’s review of the approach to developing statistical models designed for awarding 2020 exam results. A further discussion was scheduled for Regulation Committee with the aim of publishing the report in the New Year.
8. Report from the Chair of the Audit and Risk Assurance Committee
8.1 Ms Nanayakkara reported on the work of the Audit and Risk Assurance Committee, which had met on 12 November 2020.
8.2 Committee members had considered:
i. the current financial position;
ii. the proposed approach to the organisation’s response to the Spending Review;
iii. the developing risk and assurance framework for the CIS;
iv. the progress by the Commercial Service team regarding contract management; and
v. progress on the work around statistical quality with oversight by the Quality Committee;
8.3 Ms Nanayakkara noted that progress had been made to develop and embed the risk management framework across the organisation. The Committee had been assured by the recent report on the Operational Readiness of the Census, which concluded that the successful delivery of the Census collection was feasible.
9. Census and Data Collection Transformation Programme [SA(20)76]
9.1 Mr Bell and Ms Tyson-Payne introduced a paper which provided an update on the programme with a focus on the Operational Readiness for the Census and questionnaire guidance.
9.2 Mr Bell reported that the judgement on the judicial review had found that the decision not to include a Sikh tick box under the ethnicity question in the 2021 Census was lawful. Progress was being made to finalise the guidance for the sex question, with the methodology to be considered by the Methodology and Assurance Panel. As noted already in meeting the recent Operational Readiness Review had concluded the successful delivery of the Census collection was feasible, with the team effectively managing the challenges going forward. The digital build and testing were on track and the acquisition of administrative data remained a key focus.
9.3 The Board welcomed the update and noted the progress made.
10. COVID-19 Infection Survey and Surveillance Studies [SA(20)72]
10.1 Ms Rourke and Mr Bell introduced a paper which provided an update on the COVID-19 Infection Survey (CIS) programme and wider surveillance studies.
10.2 Mr Bell highlighted the continued successful delivery and impact of the CIS. The School Surveillance Study had been launched. As noted earlier in the meeting, the Audit and Risk Assurance Committee had received an update on the developing risk framework. The management of complaints had improved with a reduction in the overall escalation of concerns.
10.3 The Board heard about the range of work on surveillance studies and ONS’s role in analysing data from the CIS and the Opinions and Lifestyle survey. The ONS was leading on the work regarding the coherence of health statistics with the Devolved Administrations and the English Health Statistics Steering Group.
10.4 Board members discussed the longer-term strategic development of the CIS and the opportunities to adapt the model to meet a broader range of needs.
11. EU Transition [SA(20)73]
11.1 Mr Laffan introduced a paper which provided a further update on the work of the Authority’s EU Exit Programme, following on from papers provided to the Board in September and October.
11.2 Mr Laffan informed the meeting of the developments and preparations for the end of the end of the transition period. A phased approach had been developed to establish the domestic advisory functions to support the UK’s framework for economic statistics. A review of the new arrangements would be included in OSR’s work programme. It was noted that these arrangements could not be finalised until the broader UK-EU relationship was clear.
11.3 With regard to statistics and analysis the Board heard that ONS was working collaboratively with other departments to ensure government had the latest data and analysis following the EU transition.
11.4 The Board endorsed the plans in place following the EU transition.
12. Interventions Policy [SA(20)74]
12.1 Ms Gregory and Mr Humpherson introduced a paper which provided a summary of the changes to the Authority Interventions Policy and plans for publication.
12.2 Board members discussed the scope, impact and users of the policy. The Board agreed that the draft policy could be published for comment in December.
13. Integrated Data Programme [SA(20)75]
13.1 Ms Pritchard introduced a paper which provided an update on progress and structure of the Integrated Data Programme (IDP).
13.2 Board members heard about the vision and purpose of the IDP. Plans were in place to develop the full business case by March 2021. A review by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority would be undertaken in the New Year.
13.3 The Board noted the update.
14. Strategic Review [SA(20)71]
14.1 Mr Bateson introduced a paper which set out the approach to Spending Review (SR). A phased approach would be undertaken for a rapid strategic review of the organisation in the context of the SR settlement. The phased approach had been agreed by the National Statistics Executive Group, and an update had been provided at the recent Audit and Risk Assurance Committee meeting.
14.2 Board members noted the approach to the strategic review and would remain engaged as the work progressed.
15. Strategic Business Plan update [SA(20)69]
15.1 Mr Bateson introduced a paper which provided an update on the delivery of the business plan at 31 October 2020.
15.2 The Board noted the report, which was discussed as part of the previous item.
16. Any other business
16.1 The Authority Board would meet next on 15 December by videoconference.

UK Statistics Authority Board minutes 29 October 2020

  1. Apologies
  2. Declarations of interest
  3. Minutes and matters arising from previous meetings
  4. Report from the Authority Chair
  5. Report from the Chief Executive
  6. Strategy and Business Plan update
  7. Report from the Director General for Regulation
  8. Report from the Chair of the Regulation Committee
  9. COVID-19 Infection Survey
  10. Census and Data Collection Transformation Programme
  11. People plan and Inclusivity
  12. RPI
  13. EU Transition
  14. Any other business

The Authority Board would meet next on 26 November by videoconference

UK Statistics Authority Board minutes 29 September 2020

  1. Presentation from Scottish Chief Statistician, Roger Halliday
  2. Apologies
  3. Declarations of interest
  4. Minutes and matters arising from previous meetings
  5. Report from the Authority Chair
  6. Report from the Director General for Regulation
  7. Report from the Chief Executive
  8. Report from the Chair of the Audit and Risk Assurance Committee
  9. Strategic Business Plan update
  10. RPI
  11. EU Exit – Economic Statistics
  12. Integrated Data Platform
  13. Inclusive Data Taskforce
  14. Census and Data Collection Transformation Programme (CDCTP)
  15. Any other business

The Authority Board would meet next on 29 October by videoconference.

Statistics for the global good – A five year international strategy for the Government Statistical Service

Foreword by Professor Sir Ian Diamond

The world is changing at a radical rate and will be very different in five years – of that I have no doubt. The last six months alone have seen a paradigm shift in how we go about our daily lives and interact with each other as we respond to the pandemic. We have rapidly adopted innovative ways of working and reached greater levels of data interoperability than were thought possible just a short time ago. Our statisticians have worked tirelessly to provide the government and society with the data and analysis it needed to make sense of recent events and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so into the future, when they will be looked to for reliable and timely information on all aspects of society and the economy. This impressive work has helped to position the UK Statistical System as world leading, considered by our peers as an exemplar in the COVID response. Greater coordination of both public and private bodies has also been a key feature of the last six months, and we must reflect this in our future international relationships. Joined up, inclusive, internationally comparable statistics and data are key to understanding our society and economy and helping to build a sustainable global community where no-one is left behind. As we begin a new chapter for statistics and data it is imperative that we are ambitious and lead the global community in promoting the value of statistics and how they can be a powerful force for good in a tumultuous and changing world.

Context

There can be no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our way of life. The need for fast, accurate statistics and data has been brought into sharp focus as we try and keep pace with the virus through responsive and effective policy.

The demand for international comparative data to inform critical decision making about society and the economy has been unprecedented and shows no sign of slowing down. The pandemic has also accelerated existing trends for more timely and granular data, and highlights the importance of being able to compare the UK’s performance with other countries around the globe.

Climate change remains an urgent global challenge, posing a significant economic and humanitarian threat over the coming decades. The UK will host the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change in 2021 and has committed to focus on critical areas such as clean energy, clean transport, adaptation and resilience. Our commitment to cut carbon emissions extends to achieving “net zero” by 2050. Similarly, the UK is committed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all UN member states, and to work towards achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Accurate, internationally comparable statistics and data are of critical importance to measuring progress towards these goals and supporting relevant global and national policies.

As we near the end of the EU exit transition period, the UK’s relationship with the European Statistical System (ESS) will also change. This means we need to change how we work with other National Statistical Organisations (NSOs), other governments and international bodies to set the conditions for future partnership and collaboration. We also need to be alive to wider changes in the UK’s international relationships, for example as we move into the presidency of the G7 in 2021.

2020 to 2025 3 Increasingly, the immense potential of data is being recognised as key to driving growth both within the digital sector and across the economy. The government’s recently published National Data Strategy sets out an ambitious objective to support data foundations and improve the quality and availability of data internationally. Further, as evidenced by the pandemic, through global collaboration the UK can further enhance its world-class status in science and technology, thereby aiding research and accelerating innovation.

Ultimately, our ability to shape international standards, influence global agendas and access comparative data will strengthen the UK’s position in an increasingly data-driven world.

As the global community comes closer together, so must the statistical community. No country or statistical system can address all the challenges alone. As we deal with the global challenges facing us over the next five years and beyond, it is imperative that we work together in partnership, sharing expertise and resources and leading the way in shaping statistics for the global good.

The UK has an independent statistical system, which means our statistics are free from undue influence. Nonetheless, the statistical system must respond to changing priorities of the UK Government and wider international discussions. Moreover, when statisticians from the GSS are overseas, we recognise that we represent the UK on the global stage.

The UK statistical system operates within a global context of international classifications, obligations, standards and guidance. Our effective engagement and influence on a worldwide platform is imperative to:

  • influence the development of statistical regulations, classifications and standards in line with UK priorities and to support UK international policy objectives
  • collaborate with other NSOs and international statistical organisations to share and learn best practice
  • enhance our reputation as a world leading statistical system
  • support other countries to achieve statistical modernisation in line with relevant country plans.

The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of coordination and coherence across the GSS. The new ways of collaborative working that emerged to support the demand for fast, accurate statistics and data will not go away. A culture of inclusivity and sharing, not just of data but also of knowledge across departments and functions needs to be fully embedded and this also extends to the international arena. Our international partners are keen to learn from us and we have also benefitted greatly from collaboration with them over techniques, classifications and standards.

While we will support a unified cross HMG approach to international engagement across the GSS network and wider analytical function, there are many distinct policy priorities, departmental objectives and current and proposed international activities. For that reason, this strategy is not a detailed blueprint for everything that needs to be done. The different elements of the GSS will contribute to delivery of the objectives set out in this document in different ways, with each part of the network acting to complement the others.

A world where positive change is driven by high quality, internationally comparable statistics and data.

Our mission is twofold:

  • to lead in the modernisation and harmonisation of international statistics and shape the development of internationally comparable standards to support international and UK policy objectives
  • to be at the forefront of the data revolution and use our knowledge and skills to help others respond to global challenges, and the UK to deliver its global priorities

We have seen how an inclusive, aligned approach across HMG and with our international partners can accelerate the production of accurate, timely statistics and data for the public and global good. We must continue to promote this.

Strategic Objectives

We will achieve our vision and mission through three main strategic thrusts, or objectives.

We will develop and maintain sustainable and effective relationships and partnerships to shape the statistical agenda and to work together to deliver shared action on the most pressing statistical challenges in support of the UK’s priorities and for the global good.

As we emerge from the transition period in 2021, we must shape and strengthen the UK’s distinct role and relationship with the European Statistical System by working across the GSS to deliver a strong postEU Exit relationship, advancing UK interests. We must quickly adjust to the new circumstances, bolster governmental and people-to-people links across Europe and help negotiate a strong future partnership with Eurostat and the European Statistical System.

Our ambition is to ensure that the UK statistical system is influencing and shaping the discussion in all areas of importance to the UK. To do this we will actively engage with other countries and organisations to learn and share best practice and work closely, in the OneHMG ethos, with our colleagues across the UK government to identify priority areas and partnerships. Building and maintaining good working relationships with our international counterparts will also encourage greater collaboration on projects that will actively benefit the UK.

We will look to radically expand our network of influence outside of existing partnership areas to explore emerging issues of interest to the UK. We will do this in partnership with other sectors where appropriate as this will guide and facilitate our engagement, leading to greater sustainability. This is particularly relevant for the UK as its relations with the European Union evolve and demands for greater devolution at all levels are debated.

The pandemic has accelerated new ways of working in partnership with the private sector and academia to enable faster access to new forms of data and to extend the reach of our analysis for the public good. This type of collaboration will help to ensure that the statistics Government Statistical Service Five Year Strategy 8 and data we produce will be inclusive, relevant and impactful and will also enable us to influence and support the growth of developing statistical systems. We will look to work with users of our statistics and data internationally to promote this and also to fulfil our international obligations under the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

We will share our knowledge and expertise with our international partners for the global good, through championing UK standards to shape the international debate and encouraging reciprocity where this would benefit the UK.

Case Study – Trade

Now that the UK has left the EU we are able to negotiate, sign and ratify new trade agreements. Negotiations with partner countries will be underpinned by data and analysis and hence raise issues around international comparability. A key example here is trade asymmetries where the trade reported by one country is not the same as the trade reported by the partner country, e.g. UK imports from the US reported by the UK are not the same as US exports to the UK reported by the US. DIT, HMRC and ONS have been working collaboratively and with specific partner countries to understand what drives these differences. DIT has also participated in international Working Party and Expert Group meetings to influence developments in emerging areas of trade statistics that are inherently difficult to measure, such as Digital Trade, Trade in Services by Modes of Supply and Trade Asymmetries. Examples of relevant outputs that DIT helped to shape and deliver include the OECD/WTO/IMF Handbook on Measuring Digital Trade (the first systematic international effort to define and measure digital trade) and the WTO’s TISMOS database (the first international database on Trade in Services by Modes of Supply).

Case Study – Climate

The UK engages with the UNECE on climate through the UNECE Expert Fora for Producers and Users of Climate Change-Related Statistics, which have been organised annually since 2015 to serve as a platform for collaboration, sharing ideas and experience, discussing concepts and measurement issues, and identifying areas for development of practical guidance. The UK is also a recent member of the UNECE Steering Group on Climate Change-Related Statistics (SGCC), which organises the Expert Fora. The Expert Forum is open for all countries 2020 to 2025 9 and organizations producing or using climate change-related data. An increasing number of UK government departments and organisations have been engaging with the Expert Fora since their inception: BEIS (previously DECC) has attended since 2015 and fed into the development of a set of core climate change-related indicators, endorsed by the Conference of European Statisticians in June 2020; PHE led presentations on the Review of the Hazard Terminology and Classification at the October 2019 and September 2020 Fora and were asked to join the UNECE Task Force on Measuring Hazardous Events and Disasters; and ONS and Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) also led presentations on climate change adaptation at the September 2020 Forum.

We will seek leadership positions in international statistical forums and multilateral organisations to influence agendas and promote UK priorities and values.

The UK is often at the forefront of developing statistical methodology or innovative data practices. In such situations, we will seek to lead the radical progression of that work by nominating UK delegates for leadership positions on committees and working groups where appropriate. In addition, we will endeavour to be as engaged and helpful as possible in the debate so that the UK position is fully represented and considered.

We will showcase the work of the GSS by ensuring that we energetically represent the UK at international events, we will submit papers, make presentations and organise and chair panels. Where the UK has something to contribute to the global statistical system, we will loudly and actively promote it.

Our international delegates will be as prepared and as knowledgeable as possible with a clear perspective on the issues at stake and an overall view of the policy environment in which they are working. We will encourage our people to see that leadership in the international arena is critical to achieving the UK’s policy objectives and is an integral part of their role as government statisticians.

By doing this, we will promote the UK and its values, as well as help others to develop their own capabilities. This will contribute Government Statistical Service Five Year Strategy 10 to the comparability of international statistical standards and the development of international rules and regulations which align with UK priorities and can be sustainably and efficiently implemented in the UK.

We will be at the heart of the promotion of UK leadership on science and innovation to boost UK prosperity and deliver solutions to global challenges. We will support the UK’s ambition in promoting evidence-based policy making that drives growth in the UK economy and powers our recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. In particular, we will work to champion good governance, transparency, inclusivity, privacy and equality of access to data.

Case Study – Titchfield City Group on Ageing and Age-disaggregated Data

As many countries are encountering the trend of ageing populations, the need for quality disaggregated statistics beyond the age of 65 is vital for effective policy making as currently those above 65 are usually treated as one homogeneous group despite often having vastly differing needs depending on age and location. The Titchfield City Group on Ageing and Age-disaggregated Data (TCGA) was created at the forty-ninth session of the United Nations Statistical Commission (UNSC) in March 2018 where the UK was asked to lead the work. The purpose of the group is to address this statistical gap and establish international standards and methods for the compilation of inclusive statistics and data on across all ages. The UK led group has set a challenging timetable to complete this vital work and has divided the work into five priority areas which will be tackled at pace and will be completed by March 2023.

Case Study – Machine Learning

The UNECE High Level Group for the Modernisation of Official Statistics (HLG-MOS) is a group of committed Chief Statisticians actively steering the modernisation of statistical organisations. Their mission is to work collaboratively to identify trends, threats, and opportunities in modernising statistical organisations. In the space of two years the ONS has positioned itself at the forefront of a successful ongoing project exploring the application of Machine Learning techniques to official statistical production. The UK has also been selected to sit on the Group’s ‘Blue Skies Thinking Network’, which is the ideas factory and steering group for the HLG-MOS.

We will build and strengthen existing relationships at all levels, including across the GSS, and seek to make our own and others’ statistical systems stronger and more resilient through the promotion of the UK’s core values.

Strong statistical and data systems can help countries to develop and prosper. Building capability across the world, and in particular in lesser developed countries, therefore allows the GSS to support wider development objectives.

We will seek to develop and strengthen global statistical capacity and support the use of quality, disaggregated data in less developed countries in support of UK priorities. This will include the provision of technical expertise and advice to developing NSOs as well as mentoring support and leadership training.

We will build and strengthen peer to peer partnerships in priority developing countries, focusing on statistical and data modernisation. This will enable more effective policy making in those countries and help set favourable conditions for UK trade and investments. As part of those partnerships, we will support visits, secondments and exchanges to encourage the transfer of skills and experience.

We will build and strengthen partnerships in the statistical development community such as PARIS21, the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data and the World Bank, working consistently and coherently with UK priorities and other relevant policy leads. Closer alignment and partnership with these organisations will promote stronger coordination and thus achieve greater value for money.

The Commonwealth is an important network for the UK, reflecting shared history, values and language. The 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting and the subsequent Commonwealth Heads of Statistics Conference demonstrated the Commonwealth nations as key partners in the delivery of international priorities and global action. The UK’s leadership, particularly during its period as Chair-in-Office, is central to delivering a lasting increase in the effectiveness of the Commonwealth, which will in turn enhance our ability to influence and drive change bilaterally, regionally and globally.

Government Statistical Service Five Year Strategy 12 We will build and strengthen the GSS network by keeping in regular contact outside the meetings of the GSS International Committee and utilising the International Liaison Officer network to cascade and share information. We will share our international priorities and coordinate our international engagement where doing so will maximise the impact for the UK and reduce our resource burden.

Case Study – Kenya Census

The 2019 Kenya Population and Housing census was the first ever paperless census conducted in Kenya, with digital technology used during mapping and enumeration. The ONS, with funding from FCDO, supported the census exercise through its partnerships with Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) and United Nations Economics Commission for Africa (UNECA) by giving strategic advice and expert technical assistance, particularly in handling the deployment of 170,000 IT tablets to the field for data gathering. The partnership also supported the development of a central dashboard to monitor and manage incoming census data and report back to senior officials within the Government of Kenya. As a result of this collaboration, the census took place digitally and on time, with headline results being produced ahead of schedule.

Case Study – Increasing the transparency of SDG data in developing countries

The ONS, with funding from FCDO, provides developing countries with a free, open source, multilingual tool for collecting and reporting disaggregated SDG data, together with support for its implementation. This Open SDG platform currently has 19 users worldwide and ONS has provided extensive direct support to 3 of these countries (Rwanda, Ghana, Kyrgyzstan), together with technical guidance to other countries as required. The collection of inclusive data which covers all vulnerable groups is essential to support the 2030 Agenda’s ambition of leaving no one behind. The Inclusive Data Charter was set up by the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data with support from ONS and FCDO. The objective is to improve the quality, quantity, financing, and availability of inclusive and disaggregated data as well as the capacity and capability to produce and use it. The ONS and FCDO join UNFPA, UNICEF and the World Bank who are also signed up, plus countries including Colombia, Ghana, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Philippines, Zanzibar and Peru.

This strategy is closely aligned to the UKSA Statistics Strategy, Statistics for the Public Good, which is bold and ambitious, recognising that producing the highest quality information requires synthesis between all facets of the research and public policy environment.

Core Principles

There are core principles which will flow through the work of the statistical system over the next 5 years. We will be:

  • Radical in taking opportunities to innovate and collaborate, using data for the public good
  • Ambitious in setting out to answer all of the research questions Government has, and helping citizens, businesses and civil society make better decisions
  • Inclusive in our approach to workforce, talent management, and the design of data, statistics and analysis
  • Sustainable in delivering a unique service in a way which delivers value for money through partnership and collaboration

Statistics for the Public Good also recognises the importance of international collaboration in the production of high-quality comparable statistics and data to address global issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Successful collaboration in the modern statistical world must be international too. As the Pandemic has vividly demonstrated, users need data that can be understood in the international context, not in national isolation. We will provide global statistical leadership in those fora, and on subjects central to the UK’s interests. We will promote transparency and high standards, and support coherence and comparability across the global statistical community. And, we will continue to work with, and learn from, our partners in the Government Statistical Service Five Year Strategy 14 developing world to ensure statistics and data are at the heart of the UK’s development policies and agenda, and provide help to those most in need.”

UK Statisitics Authority Statistics for the Public Good strategy document. This strategy also aims to be ambitious and has at its core a focus on coordination and partnership across the GSS to achieve the maximum impact for the UK. Examples of how we can map elements of the International Strategy to the Statistics strategy can be seen below.

Radical

  • Explore new relationships and ways of working
  • Constantly innovating methods
  • Rapid response to requests for data

Ambitious

  • Influence international standards
  • Leadership in the international arena
  • Place statistics at the heart of global policy making

Inclusive

  • Inclusive Data Task Force
  • Inclusive Data Charter
  • Collaboration with academia and private sector
  • Grow talent and encourage diversity

Sustainable

  • Capacity building/training
  • Value for international activity
  • Build enduring partnerships
  • SDGs

How will we do this?

There are several strategic enablers that will help us deliver our vision and objectives:

We will and coordinate our activities to maximise effectiveness and communicate regularly with each other using innovative tools and techniques.

Coordination across the GSS and wider government will be key to ensuring that the UK position is coherent and strong in the global arena. It is essential that we share and communicate our priorities and plans and work together in partnership to deliver our objectives.

Accordingly, every Head of Profession will develop an international engagement plan (HOP’s plan) covering the next 12 months, setting out:

  • Priority themes
  • Priority countries and organisations
  • Planned meetings over the next 12 months
  • Ways of working that will maximise coordination.

The UKSA International Relations team will ensure that the HOPs plans are developed and kept up to date with the assistance of the GSS International Committee and the International Liaison Officer network. They will also synthesise the plans and proposed meetings and communicate suggestions for better coordination in support of shared priorities.

We will ensure we are represented by the best people internationally and develop our staff through bespoke training and direct experience of international engagement.

It is essential that the best possible people represent the UK in our international dealings with other NSOs and international organisations. This is not just the most senior grade or the most academically qualified person but the person most able to engage on the topic. Our delegates must be ambassadors for the GSS and the UK. They must be engaged, helpful and collaborative as well as knowledgeable. More regular virtual meetings caused by the pandemic have been an unexpected bonus for our international work and we will strive to maintain these and ensure that our people are properly supported to use these channels in the longer term.

We will develop and deliver training for those identified as suitable representatives to ensure that they are aware of their role, including the context in which they are operating, and are introduced to the right networks to allow them to coordinate effectively. A strong GSS Government Statistical Service Five Year Strategy 16 cadre of international delegates will enhance the UK’s position in the global statistical system and help us achieve our objectives. It will also contribute to the sustainability of our international work whilst encouraging development and retention of our people. Where appropriate we will partner in the delivery of such training and support.

We will harness and promote innovation in data collection, analysis and governance.

Innovation has never been more important to the statistical system, particularly since the outbreak of COVID-19, as demands for more granular and inclusive data multiply to feed the rapidly evolving policy environment. We must be flexible and agile in our approach to collection and analysis of data and utilise available and emerging technologies to innovate methods and approaches.

We will work at pace and cross-fertilise ideas across government, academia and the private sector to be as ambitious and radical as possible. We will encourage a positive innovation culture, where creativity, ideas and innovation are at the top of the agenda. When we are innovative and agile, we will naturally emerge as a global leader.

We will identify and use resources efficiently to maximise demonstrable impact.

Investing in our people and promoting innovation comes at a cost and we will ensure that we devote appropriate resources to them in order to support rapidly changing demands for data. We will ensure that we develop appropriate technical capabilities to fully support the UK’s priorities and policy objectives.

We will also seek to leverage alternative funding mechanisms and recover costs where possible to enable greater investment in priority areas and to pursue strategic partnerships. We will also strive to achieve optimum impact through an international engagement program that is coherent and coordinated in order to get maximum value for the taxpayer.

Governance

The GSS International Committee (GSSIC) is the sub-committee of the National Statistics Executive Group (NSEG) with responsibility for coordination and strategic leadership in international affairs in official statistics. Its core responsibility is to ensure the UK Statistical System is competent in international statistics forums and has the capacity to exert its influence and make its contribution to international statistical development, in the interest of the UK Statistics Strategy.

Established in June 2011 by the GSSIC, the GSS International Liaison Officer (ILO) network helps to champion and implement the GSS International strategy across the GSS. ILOs are the conduit through which international activity is communicated and coordinated across the GSS. It is important that ILOs get to know their international patch and keep in touch with their HOP/Deputy National Statistician/ ONS Head of Division on international issues. ILOs also enjoy twoway communication with the UKSA International team and enable synergies between GSS departments to be identified at an early stage.

This strategy sets the strategic direction for GSS international engagement. It is a living document and will be reviewed periodically by the GSSIC to reflect the evolving international and political scene and the UK’s changing priorities.

We are committed to monitoring the real-world impact of our work and assessing progress against the objectives which we have set ourselves. We aim to influence and shape ideas, individuals and decisions, using our knowledge, skills and innovative and radical approach. We will continue to develop our techniques for performance measurement, to tackle the challenges to simple quantification of complex outcomes reflected in this strategy.

We will prioritise our international engagement in line with UK strategy and to support specific policy objectives. In doing so, we will ensure that we act in concert across the GSS to support each other, acknowledging that we will sometimes have different stakeholders and audiences.

Through the development of the HOPs plans, and utilising the ILO network to the full, we will identify shared priority themes and activities that will guide further collaboration and coordination. The GSSIC will regularly review the HOPs plans and ensure that we are fully leveraging our international engagement to achieve the maximum benefit.

UKSA

The UK Statistics Authority is an independent body at arm’s length from government, which reports directly to the UK Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

ONS

The Office for National Statistics is the executive office of the UK Statistics Authority. It is the UK’s National Statistical Office and largest producer of official statistics.

GSS

The GSS is a UK network, spread across a whole range of public bodies, including the devolved administrations and UK government departments which produces and analyses statistics. It includes professional statisticians, data scientists, geographers, researchers, economists, analysts, operational delivery staff, IT specialists and other supporting roles. The GSS is also a part of the cross-government Analysis Function, which has built a community of analysts of various professional backgrounds working to provide the evidence base for understanding the biggest challenges of the day. Both the Analysis Function and the GSS are also led by the National Statistician.

NSO

The National Statistical Office is the body that has the responsibility for coordinating all activities at national level for the development, production and dissemination of official statistics. It should be noted that particularly in federated statistical systems other national authorities responsible for the development, production and dissemination of official statistics may also exist.

Contact us

Have a question or need advice email us at: international@statistics.gov.uk

Annual Review of Authority Casework 2019/20

1. Introduction

Official statistics are an essential public asset. The UK Statistics Authority works to promote, monitor and safeguard the production and publication of official statistics. In accordance with the statutory requirements set by the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007, we strive to ensure that official statistics are accessible, reliable and that they serve the public good.

The Authority’s casework function plays an important role in building public confidence in the production and use of official statistics. The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) is responsible for the Authority’s casework function, undertaking monitoring to identify issues and investigating issues raised with the Authority. This report provides a summary of casework for 2019/20. Given the high interest in the Authority’s work during the coronavirus pandemic the report also includes a short summary of casework for the first quarter of 2020/21 (1 April to 30 June 2020).

To find out more about our casework process and how to submit a concern visit the casework page on the OSR website.

What is casework?

One of the Authority’s key roles is to use our voice to stand up for statistics and to represent the public, monitoring and reporting publicly where we have concerns and highlighting good practice. Casework is the tool that best allows us to be responsive and investigate issues quickly as they arise.

There are two main routes to an issue becoming casework:

  • we identify the issue (self-generated casework)
  • someone brings the issue to our attention

The topics covered by casework can be varied, for example, around the misuse of statistics or aspects of the quality or presentation of a set of statistics. The Authority’s interventions policy explains how cases are brought to our attention and the factors we consider in determining if and how to intervene. The interventions policy is currently being reviewed, and we will be updating our website over the coming months.

The role of the Office for Statistics Regulation

The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) was established in 2016 as the regulatory arm of the UK Statistics Authority. OSR sets the Code of Practice for Statistics and is responsible for the Authority’s casework function, undertaking monitoring to identify issues and investigating issues raised with the Authority. OSR operates independently of statistical producers, including the Office for National Statistics (ONS). OSR’s remit covers all official statistics whether produced in ONS, government departments or other specified bodies.

Once an issue has been identified, OSR will consider the most effective response, working with the Authority Chair where relevant. Responses could be a private (by phone or letter), or through public statements and blogs highlighting issues. The decision on how to respond will be guided by the intervention policy and will focus on the desired outcome.

OSR has been developing automated monitoring to complement monitoring and horizon scanning undertaken by individuals within OSR and issues raised with us. This is a project under continuous development, but has already supported OSR in identifying issues, for example through monitoring Twitter and highlighting relevant issues. Issues identified through this route sometimes become self-generated casework which allows us to monitor issues so that they can then dealt with more effectively and quickly if subsequently brought to our attention by others.

Context

This report focuses on casework raised (externally or internally) between 1 April 2019 and 31 March 2020. During this period there was a strong focus on EU Exit and the General Election in December 2019. In March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic led to unprecedented changes in society and the economy which have been reflected in Casework during 2020. In the first quarter of 2020/21 there was a big increase in casework. As a result of this and the continued priority of COVID-19, a short summary of casework for the period 1 April 2020 to 30 June 2020 has also been included in this report. A full report for April 2020 to March 2021 will be published in summer 2021.

Notes

  • Percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole percent.
  • When calculating response times, cases that were closed on the same day they came in, have a 1-day response time, rather than 0.
  • Internally generated cases are issues that have been noticed by internal staff. The OSR team actively monitor the use of statistics in public debate. During the run up to the 2019 General Election this involved reviewing manifestos, debates and speeches, as well as social media content.
  • The categories in this report are provided to give an indication of the areas and issues covered by casework. There may be cases which could be classified as multiple categories; in these cases a decision has been made on which single category is most relevant. As part of a range of process improvements OSR is looking to develop the categories and make improvements to the management information associated with Casework.
  • Casework complaints are broadly split into two categories – use/misuse of statistics, and compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics. Use/misuse is the most common issue – where statistics have been used inappropriately or incorrectly in public debate (whether deliberately or not). Code compliance assesses whether official statistics have been produced and presented in a way that the Code of Practice would expect. OSR also considers whether official statistics meet the expectations of the code through its range of other regulatory work.
  • The time taken to complete casework can have a large level of skew and so where possible both the median and the arithmetic mean have been calculated. In order to offset the effects of this skewness the median will, where possible, be used in discussion.

2. COVID-19: Casework Summary April to June 2020

The period from April to June 2020 was the busiest on record for casework. There were 110 items of casework opened during this period, including queries received and self-generated issues. Despite only covering the first quarter of 2020/21 this is higher than the total number of cases for any previous year (see Figure 1).

  • Nearly 90% of cases (96 out of 110) were related to coronavirus. Many of these were associated with information on the number of COVID-19 cases or deaths, and some issues related to the impact of the pandemic e.g. Universal Credit figures.
  • The mean time taken to close cases opened during this period was 11 days, with a median of 8. This compares with the 2019/20 mean time to close a case of just under 20 days, with a median of 13 days.
  • 20% of cases were internally generated (i.e. were investigated as a result of the issue being identified from within the OSR team).

The most high-profile intervention between April and June 2020 was correspondence between Sir David Norgrove, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority and Matt Hancock MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Some of the improvements resulting from this intervention are highlighted in the letter concluding the rapid review of the Test and Trace System.

During the first half of 2020, OSR has made improvements to internal processes and had a greater focus on impact. For example, we brought together in a single response similar issues arising in a range of casework, such as our statements on Production and use of management information by government and other official bodies in May 2020 and Presenting estimates of R by government and allied bodies across the United Kingdom in June 2020.

At a time when producers of statistics are under increased pressure and there are greater volumes of data flowing around government it has been even more important to focus on the impact of interventions and the best way to achieve an outcome. This will sometimes be through informal engagement with relevant organisations and individuals and sometimes requires more formal statements or correspondence.

3. 2019/20: Casework Summary April 2019 to March 2020

Key Findings

In the period 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020 the Authority considered 109 pieces of casework. This was an increase on the previous year (104).

  • Just over a quarter of cases for the year (29 out of 109) were opened during the run-up to the 2019 General Election (from the announcement on 28 October to 11 December inclusive), with November 2019 being the month with the highest number of cases opened (18).
  • Just over half (52%) of cases were about use/misuse of statistics; this is in line with 2018/19.
  • The increase in casework was driven by internally generated cases. Nearly 40% of cases were internally generated in 2019/20, compared with 19% in 2018/19.
  • Children, Education and Skills made up the highest proportion of cases (28% of all cases) with many of these relating to claims about school funding figures.
  • The average (median) time taken from opening to closing a case was 13 days (mean 20 days), compared to 2018/19 when the average was 24 days (median and 30 days, mean).

3.1 How many cases did we receive?

A total of 946 cases have been considered by the Authority between 1 April 2008 and 31 March 2020, see Figure 1. In 2019/20 the Authority considered 109 pieces of casework. This is 5 more than the previous year (an increase of approximately 5%) and higher than any preceding year. However, this does not relate to an increase in submissions from the public as the number of cases generated externally decreased from 84 to 66. This is highlighted in Figure 4 where a large increase in self-generated casework can be seen. Figure 1 shows the number of cases considered each year from 2008/09 to 2019/20.

Figure 1: Cases considered 2008/09 to 2019/20

Figure 1 shows the number of cases considered each year from 2008/09 to 2019/20. It shows an upward trend for the last 4 years.

Source: Office for Statistics Regulation

Figure 2: Cases logged per month April 2019 – March 2020

This line graph shows cases logged per month from April 2019 – March 2020. The month with the most cases was November (18). The summer months (May, June, July, August) saw the lowest volume of casework (22% or an average of six per month).

The month with the most cases was November (18). This was driven largely by the issues arising during the pre-election period, in advance of the December 2019 General Election. OSR was more proactive in monitoring potential issues than it had been in previous elections. 11 of the 18 cases considered in November were internally generated, however many related to areas which the Authority had previously publicly commented on.

The summer months (May, June, July, August) saw the lowest volume of casework (22% or an average of six per month). This is similar to the previous year when there was an average of five cases per month over these four months. While the number of cases for March 2020 was relatively low (7 cases), the end of the month contained the first few cases on coronavirus. There was no obvious driver for the relatively high number of cases in February 2020 (15), which covered a range of issues and topics.

3.2 What was the nature of the issues?

Casework complaints are broadly split into two categories – use/misuse of statistics, and compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics.

Use/misuse is the most common issue – where there is a concern about statistics having been used inappropriately or incorrectly in public debate (whether deliberately or not).

Code compliance assesses whether official statistics have been produced and presented in line with the Code of Practice for Statistics.

This section summarises the types of issues raised through casework, comparing 2019/20 to the previous year. The types of issues considered remained broadly similar to the previous year with use/misuse of statistics being the most prevalent (52% in 2019/20 and 2018/19).

Figure 3: Percentage of cases considered by category of concern

This graph shows the percentage of cases considered by category of concern. More than half of cases (52% or 57 cases) relate to the use/misuse of statistics.

Source: Office for Statistics Regulation

More than half of cases (52% or 57 cases) relate to the use/misuse of statistics. These are often instances where statistics have been used in a way which someone considers potentially misleading, most commonly the use is by a public figure or in a press release from a public body. These types of issues can be picked up through individuals writing to the Authority, or through OSR’s media and social media monitoring. In 2019/20, of the 57 cases in this category, 25 cases (44%) were internally generated and 18 (32%) came from members of the public. Other sources included members of parliament, the media, statistical producers and academics.

Of the other categories, the most common is quality, reliability and trustworthiness. Of the 24 cases in this category in 2019/20, 10 (42%) were internally generated.

3.3 How long did it take to close cases?

This section of the report provides information on the time taken to close a case. This is the time taken between opening a case to closing a case. During 2019/20 OSR has worked to improve processes so that more cases are turned around more quickly. However, it is important to note that this is never at the expense of making an informed judgement. Therefore, while closure times and response times are important, it is not the only metric driving casework.

The report sets out the average time to close a case, giving the median and mean. The median is considered the headline measure as it best reflects the typical experience. In 2019/20 the median time taken to close a case was 13 days. This means that 50% of cases were closed in 13 days or less, compared with 24 days in 2018/19. The mean time taken to close a case in 2019/20 was 20 days. This number is higher than the median as it is more strongly influenced by a relatively small number of longer cases. The mean time taken to close a case in 2018/19 was 29 days.

The time taken to close a case covers internally and externally generated casework. The date of opening a case is the date a concern is received from an external source or the date an issue is identified. The date a case is closed is the point at which the issue has been considered and any necessary action taken. For externally generated casework this will usually include a response to the person or organisation that raised the concern. Some longer-term follow up actions, as well as the impact of the casework, will be tracked separately.

OSR seeks to respond to all those who email or write whether or not it agrees with the concern raised. Casework can also result in correspondence with the individual or organisation a concern relates to.  Some of the correspondence will be published and some will be private.

Internally generated cases may not lead to any formal correspondence. For example, once a case has been considered no further action may be deemed necessary, or it could be resolved through informal engagement with stakeholders and departments.

The averages above mask a lot of variation in response times. Table 1 shows that in 2019/20:

  • 45% of cases were closed in ten days or less (23% in 2018/19)
  • 79% of cases were closed within 30 days (64% in 2018/19)
  • there was only one case that was closed more than 100 days after it was opened, compared with four such cases in 18/19 (cases that take this long tend to be complex cases)

Table 1: Days from opening to closing a case 2019/20

Casework Closure Time (Days)TotalsCumulative TotalsPercentagesCumulative Percentages
0-10494945%45%
11-20267524%69%
21-30118610%79%
31-409958%87%
41-504994%91%
51-10091088%99%
101+11091%100%

Table 2: Average days to close a case by issue type

Issue typeCount of casesMedian days to close a caseMean days to close a case
Legal (inc non-compliance and disclosure)4942
Availability of statistics53540
Presentation142023
Quality, reliability, trustworthiness (inc assessment )241121
Coherence and consistency41819
Use/misuse of statistics57815
Pre-release166

There are a range of factors which will influence the time taken to respond, for example the profile of the issue, the number of organisations which need to be engaged and the type of issue being considered. Table 2 shows the average days taken to close a case by type of issue (median and mean). Cases classified as availability of statistics typically took the longest to close at 35 days (median). However, if the mean is considered then legal cases have the biggest average, 42 days. This reflects the skew that can be present in closure and response times and in this case is the effect of one very long-running case (146 days). Use/misuse of statistics had a median response time of 8 days.

OSR aims to send an acknowledgement of any correspondence within 1 working day. For longer running cases updates will be provided as the work progresses.

Unfortunately, due to the process used to archive older casework data the time to reply is not available and so median values for years prior to 2016 are not available. Additionally, prior to 2018 no date for closing a case was recorded in cases where a reply was not sent out.  These combined issues mean that limited data is available for examining changes across time.

Table 3: Average days to reply or close a case by year

YearMedian time to replyMedian time to close case 
2016-1723n/a
2017-1821n/a
2018-192520
2019-201313

3.4 Who raised the issues?

This section summarises how casework was initiated including which groups raised casework. In addition to the seven categories considered last year, a further category of Statistical Producers has been included for 2019/20.

Of the 109 cases considered in 2019/20, internally generated casework made up 39% of all cases (43 cases). This is nearly double the proportion of cases which were internally generated the previous year (19%). The second highest source of case work (27%) was from members of the public. This is a decrease of 7 percentage points from the previous year, when it was the highest source of cases. There were 29 cases raised by members of the public in 2019/20 compared with 35 in 2018/19.

Figure 4: Casework by source

This graph shows the percentage of cases considered by category of concern. Of the 109 cases considered in 2019/20, internally generated casework made up 39% of all cases (43 cases).

Source: Office for Statistics Regulation

3.4.1 Internally generated casework

Of the internally generated cases, 35% led to some form of correspondence and the remaining 65% were investigated and noted with no further immediate action. In some cases, while there was no further action, it may have led to informal discussion or ongoing monitoring.

3.4.2 Government and Parliaments

The Authority received 12 cases from members of Parliaments within the UK and Devolved administrations, or from officials in government. This includes cases raised by current members of UK, Scottish and Welsh Parliaments. In all but one case the Authority response was published. In the one exception, the issue was transferred to another department.

Children, Education and Skills account for 42% of the cases raised by these groups. The cases cover a range of issues including school funding and higher education statistics.

Casework discussed in parliament

During the period from 1 April 2019 and 31 March 2020 Authority interventions around the use and misuse of statistics have been mentioned in parliament nine times. Two of these mentions were in the Scottish Parliament and the remaining seven in Westminster. Four of the nine references related to casework carried out in previous years.

The appendix provides further details of references to Authority interventions in Parliaments within the UK.

3.5 What were the cases about?

Figure 5 shows the general themes of casework from 2019/20. These themes broadly correlate to the OSR domains.

Children, Education and Skills was the theme with the highest number of cases in 2019/20, comprising 28% (30) of the cases. The next highest was Health and Social Care with 17% of cases (18 cases). This was 8 percentage points lower than 2018/19 when Health and Social Care had been the most prevalent theme.

Figure 5: Casework by theme

Figure 5 shows the general themes of casework from 2019/20. Children, Education and Skills was the theme with the highest number of cases in 2019/20 comprising 28% (30) of the cases. The next highest was health and social care with 17% of cases (18 cases).

Source: Office for Statistics Regulation

Children, Education and Skills – In more depth

Of the 30 cases related to Children Education and Skills, two thirds related to statistics produced by the Department for Education.

The sources for Children, Education and Skills cases were almost evenly split between being generated internally by OSR (27%), raised by members of the public (23%) and raised by the user community (23%). The majority of issues raised related to use/misuse of statistics (63%). Casework in this theme covered a range of topics, but one area which featured repeatedly was school funding statistics.

In May 2019, OSR wrote a letter to the Department for Education, recommending it publish a set of official statistics on school funding that comply with the Code of Practice for Statistics.

In their party manifestos, both the Labour Party and Conservative Party made claims about schools funding.

  • Labour manifesto: “Schools have faced years of budget cuts, leaving headteachers forced to beg parents for money for basic equipment. Despite promising to reverse their own cuts, the Tories latest funding announcement leaves 83 per cent of schools still facing cuts next year”
  • Conservative Manifesto: “In his first months in office, Boris Johnson announced an extra £14 billion in funding for schools. That translates to £150 million a week, and will include at least £5,000 a year for each secondary school pupil and at least £4,000 for each primary school pupil. This also includes £780 million in new funding to support children with Special Educational Needs next year alone.”

These claims were picked up by OSR as they were repeats of claims the Authority had already commented on. The Authority published a statement highlighting its concerns with the claims and welcoming the Department for Education’s commitment to publishing official statistics on schools funding. The new statistics were first published in January 2020. OSR wrote to the Department for Education welcoming the new statistics.

For Children, Education and Skills related cases, the median time taken to close a case was 24 days (mean 29 days). Within this, 23% of cases were closed in less than 10 days and 63% of cases were closed in less than a month.

2019 General Election

On 28 October 2019, Parliament agreed to hold a snap general election in the UK. The pre-election period started on 6 November, with restrictions in place until polling day on 12 December. The analysis in this section looks at casework submitted or generated between 28 October and 11 December (inclusive), covering the date that the election was confirmed up to the day prior to the election taking place. Further information about our work during the pre-election period can be found in a blog on our website.

On 5 November 2019, Sir David Norgrove, Chair of the Authority, wrote to the leaders of all UK political parties reminding them of their duty to use statistics accurately and fairly in the forthcoming election campaign. The OSR team were more proactive in monitoring during the pre-election period than in previous elections. For example, reviewing manifestos and conducting ‘horizon scanning’ to support good use of statistics in public debate. The focus of this monitoring was on issues which the Authority had previously commented on.

Between 28 October and 11 December 2019 OSR considered 29 pieces of casework. This represented just over a quarter of the year’s casework in less than two months. Many of the cases considered during this period related to statistical claims made by politicians or political parties and nearly three quarters (72% or 21 cases) related to the ‘use/misuse of statistics.’ Around half of the cases were internally generated (52%).

Figure 6: Source of casework during election

This graph shows the source of casework during election. Most of the cases were internally generated.

Source: Office for Statistics Regulation

Casework during the election covered a wide range of topics, with the highest proportion in the Health and Social Care category.

Figure 7: Election casework by theme

This graph shows the topics of casework received during the election. Casework during the election covered a wide range of topics, with the highest proportion in the Health and Social Care category.

Source: Office for Statistics Regulation

Annex 1 – Parliamentary discussion of casework

23 April 2019 – HCLG Select Committee

During an oral evidence session on 23 April 2019 by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee as part of the Committee’s inquiry into the ‘Homelessness Reduction Act – One Year On’, the Authority’s interventions on homelessness statistics were mentioned:

“The Office for National Statistics said that the methods for doing the calculations weren’t fit for purpose, whether on one end it be on the rough sleeping the other end simply, people sleeping on friend’s sofas. There were not real, proper assessments.” – Clive Betts MP

“What they are saying at this stage is…and we entirely accept this and will comply with everything they require. Which is, that they want to make sure that the figure we are putting out which is the statistical information we have of a 19% for rough sleeping in the rough sleeping initiative areas.” – Jeremy Swain, Deputy Director of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Division at MHCLG

25 April 2019 – House of Commons

The October 2018 letter from the Authority to the former Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP, was mentioned by Thangam Debbonaire MP during a debate on school funding on 25 April 2019:

“The Minister may wish to disagree with my arithmetic, or that of headteachers in Bristol, but I wonder whether he will accept that the chair of the UK Statistics Authority and the Institute for Fiscal Studies can do their numbers. Sir David Norgrove, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, said last October in a letter to the Secretary of State, in response to a blog by the Department for Education about education funding, that “figures were presented in such a way as to misrepresent changes in school funding…school spending figures were exaggerated by using a truncated axis, and by not adjusting for per pupil spend.” Those are not my words; they are the words of the chair of the UK Statistics Authority. He also noted that the Department “included a wide range of education expenditure unrelated to publicly funded schools”.”

1 July 2019 – House of Lords

During an oral question on the accuracy of statistics used by ministers in the House of Lords on 1 July 2019, Lord Watson of Invergowrie referenced the series of interventions made regarding the Department for Education’s use of school funding statistics:

“The UK Statistics Authority’s latest rebuke of the Department for Education over misleading statistics to support claims of generous funding for schools is the fifth since the Secretary of State for Education took up his post in January 2018.”

4 July 2019 – House of Lords

During a debate in the House of Lords on 4 July 2019 on protecting the NHS in future trade deals in post-Brexit Britain, the Authority’s intervention into the Vote Leave campaign’s use of statistics was mentioned by Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe:

“Noble Lords will not need reminding of Vote Leave’s claim that the UK would send to the NHS the £350 million being paid weekly to the EU. This was a harmful and shameful stunt emblazoned on the side of a red double-decker bus—another great British emblem—which the head of the UK Statistics Authority called: ‘a clear misuse of official statistics’ in a letter to Boris Johnson.”

1 October 2019 – House of Commons

During an urgent parliamentary question regarding the Government response to homeless deaths on 1 October 2019, Melanie Onn MP mentioned the Authority’s intervention earlier that year recommending that the Government improve the quality of homelessness figures:

“The speaker is here to convince us of the Government’s seriousness in taking forward this issue. Back in March the Government was urged by the UK Statistics Authority to improve its quality of homelessness figures because if the Government doesn’t know exactly how many people are homeless, how can it possibly expect to deal with the issue? What action has the Government taken on this advice?”

5 February 2020 – Scottish Parliament

During a Scottish Parliament debate on tax increases on 5 February 2020, John Mason MSP referenced the UK Statistics Authority’s response to the Scottish Government in August 2019 on the subject of income tax reconciliations:

“It is worth noting that the UK Treasury’s interpretation of the 2017-18 reconciliation is described as “somewhat disingenuous” by the Fraser of Allander institute, and I understand that the UK Statistics Authority upheld a complaint from Derek Mackay that the UK Government’s interpretation of the reconciliation was “incorrect”.”

25 February 2020 -House of Commons

The letter from Mr Healey to the Authority was mentioned by Sarah Jones MP on 25 February 2020 during an oral ministerial statement on rough sleeping in the Commons:

“Today’s figures come with a big health warning: everyone, from the Secretary of State to homelessness charities, knows that these statistics are an unreliable undercount of the true scale of the problem. The figures have been refused national statistics status—a mark of “trustworthiness, quality and public value”. Yesterday, Labour’s shadow Housing Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), wrote to the UK Statistics Authority to ask it to investigate their accuracy. That follows new data obtained by the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act, showing that Ministers have been dramatically under-reporting the scale of rough sleeping.”

27 February 2020 – House of Lords

During a Lords debate on rough sleeping on 27 February 2020, Lord Kennedy of Southwark referenced this intervention:

“The Government have no basis to parade their own figures as anything resembling an accurate picture. In 2019, the Office for Statistics Regulation said that it expected the Government to plan for better statistics on rough sleeping. The recent defence that these statistics are only a good estimate brings into question why they were ever published.”

12 March 2020 – Scottish Parliament

During First Minister’s Question Time in the Scottish Parliament on 12 March 2020, Lewis Macdonald MSP referred to a quote from Sir David Norgrove regarding Transport Scotland’s following of the code of practice:

“Sir David Norgrove, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority has today expressed ’concern’ about Transport Scotland’s ‘selective use of unpublished data’ in a news release on the Aberdeen western peripheral route last month. Does the first minister agree with Sir David that Transport Scotland must act in line with the code of practice for statistics, which applies to all producers of official statistics, and will she urge Transport Scotland to publish all the data in question without further delay?”

Related links:

Annual Review of UK Statistics Authority Casework, 2018 to 2019

Annual Review of UK Statistics Authority Casework, 2017 to 2018