The financial year 2020/21 has been incredibly important for us as an organisation in terms of our evolution. We have embarked on our new strategy and have made significant progress against our core strategic principles through our strategic business plan. We cannot consider the achievements during the year however without consideration of the wider context and the challenges presented – most significantly the COVID-19 pandemic – which has dramatically impacted our activities and the way in which we have operated. We have played a significant role through our work with other government colleagues and partners in delivering the COVID-19 Infection Survey and wider studies and analysis to support government decision making through this most difficult of times.
The EU Exit transition period ended during the year, another key event, but one which did not significantly impact upon our overall operations. We have however needed to review the way in which we engage with and contribute to the wider international statistical community and increase the scope of our analysis and insight to ensure we are able to capture the impacts of EU Exit on the country.
During the Summer of 2020 a Spending Review (SR20) was announced which resulted in a budgetary freeze for financial year 2021/22 at 2019/20 levels. This key fiscal event has had an impact on our future planning activity during the year with the organisation needing to re-appraise the scale of its plans and timelines for future deliverables. The impact of this re-appraisal will be captured and published as part of our strategic business plan refresh for 2021/22.
This year saw us achieve the key milestone in our Census Data Collection Transformation Programme with Census Day on 21 March 2021. This historic ‘once in a decade’ event forms part of the critical period of Census data gathering across England and Wales and the culmination of several years of planning and development. The data collection activity spans financial years 2020/21 and 2021/22 with the key headline results for Census 2021 not available until after the year end with the first and most critical phase of the data capture ending on 17 May 2021. In a press release of 4 May 2021, we published our headline figures for completion which at the time of writing stands at over 97% – exceeding the overall target response rate of 94%. This is a significant achievement made more so given that the Census 2021 activities have progressed during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.
The purpose of the next sections of the performance report for 2020/21 is to assess in detail how ONS has progressed against its multi-year strategic business plan during the period through the lens of the four strategic principles – highlighting successes; the specific challenges we have faced; assessing our performance against our new Key Performance Indicators; before looking ahead briefly to 2021/22 and how our future plans have developed over the past 12 months. Our strategic risks are set out in Chapter three of this report.
Key milestone deliverables
Our Strategic Business Plan set out a high-level timeline of key milestone deliverables. The milestones for the 2020/21 financial year and a summary assessment of performance against them is set out below.
- July 2020 Inclusion and Diversity Action Plan launched
We launched this critical aspect of our People Plan to help us develop and maintain our approach to inclusion and diversity across our workforce.
- October 2020 experimental publication of GDP estimates using double deflation
We published experimental estimates of industry level Gross Value Added using double deflation, a key recommendation from the Bean Review of Economic Statistics.
- October 2020 scale up the COVID-19 Infection Survey to full capacity
Achieved with over 150,000 households tested on a fortnightly basis from October across all four nations of the UK informing governments, businesses and society on the prevalence of the infection.
- October 2020 trade improvements implemented in Blue Book and Pink Book
Trade implemented a number of improvements in the National Accounts Blue Book and Pink Book 2020. These were mainly focused on addressing Gross National Income (GNI) reservations but also enabling improvements into Trade in Services as a result. The key areas of development were in relation to disbursements, estimating the cost of freight services and cross border travel estimates.
- January 2021 phase two Analytical Lighthouse projects launched
Integrated Data Programme Analytical Lighthouse project pilot exercises were launched in Quarter 3 and Quarter 4.
- February 2021 phase one completion of business prices annual
We implemented annually chain-linked business prices in line with international best practice for the first time; improving consistency with other price indices such as the Consumer Prices Index (CPI).
- March 2021 business case developed for future Enterprise Resource Planning solution
Progress has been made through our Corporate Systems Improvement Programme in readiness for a planned procurement exercise in 2022.
- March 2021 Census 2021
The Census Day was successfully held – 21 March 2021.
- March 2021 deliver the full business case for the Integrated Data Programme
The Integrated Data Programme Full Business Case was submitted to HM Treasury on 25 March 2021.
Overall performance against the strategic principles
Cross cutting analysis and integrated data
We have made significant progress against our ‘radical’ strategic principle during 2020/21. Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic has presented significant challenges it has also allowed us to demonstrate our worth in helping society respond to the crisis.
COVID-19 Infection Survey and Wider Support
The onset of the pandemic brought significant additional activity during the period. We have needed to rise to this challenge working with our partners and colleagues from across government and the devolved administrations. Our work in introducing and then operating the COVID-19 Infection Survey (CIS) is the most obvious example of how ONS has aided in the UK’s response. The survey, which was stood up within 10 days of inception at the outset of the pandemic, began with a sample size of 10,000 households in England, growing to become the largest community-based study assessing COVID-19 with over 150,000 households taking part each fortnight across the four nations of the United Kingdom. The operation has continued at this level from October to date.
In the first wave of the pandemic, critical death registration data enabled government to understand the impacts in domestic settings and hospitals. This data also provided vital information on factors that increased the risk of death including age, sex, levels of deprivation and occupation, providing relative risks for everyone in the UK.
As the year has progressed ONS has developed ancillary, wider studies and analysis that continue to help in the fight against COVID-19. This includes a significantly enhanced Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) which assesses the effectiveness of non-pharmaceutical interventions (such as the use of face coverings and social distancing) providing insights into a wide range of areas of social policy from home-schooling to holiday plans, mental health and wellbeing to personal finances and most recently covering attitudes towards vaccinations; and a focused Schools Infection Survey that targets analysis on educational institutions. We have delivered and analysed several bespoke surveys on specific groups of interest commissioned through No.10, the Department for Health and Social Care and other central government departments. Whilst not exhaustive the list includes students, the over 80s, the clinically extremely vulnerable, test and trace cases and contacts, international arrivals and samples of residents in UK cities.
Based on the key questions of policy makers, the survey protocols, ethical approval, questionnaires and operations have been developed rapidly alongside partners across government, academia and the private sector. The results, data and analysis are used widely to inform the public; government and policy making including through the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) committee; used to drive decision making such as that related to tiering; and have featured prominently at the government press briefings in the four nations.
On the economy, we have radically expanded our weekly faster indicators release, making use of rapid response surveys, novel data sources, and experimental methods to bring together real-time insights. In order to further meet the need for real-time data, we have published experimental data on the number of payroll employees from HM Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC’s) Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Real Time Information (RTI) and weekly estimates of Adzuna job vacancies that provide up-to-date insight on the Labour Market. Working with HMRC colleagues we have developed the use of PAYE Real Time Information (RTI) data so it now measures employment patterns two to three weeks after the relevant pay period. This monthly publication is becoming the main measure for explaining employment patterns during these uncertain times.
In the lead up to the end of the EU Exit transition period, we produced new publications on how the UK trades with the rest of the world. This included insights into trade in goods and services by business characteristics as well as developing models and obtaining new indicators to strengthen our analysis and understanding of movements in trade data.
This integral role in aiding government decision making has enabled ONS to be at the very centre of the data and analytical landscape in the UK – where it needs to be. Through our data capability function we have continued to provide timely access to data, technology, modern data science techniques and methodology to support our own work and that of the wider Government Statistical Service and Government more generally.
Integrated Data Programme
While much of our work has rightly focused on the national COVID-19 response, ONS continues to make progress against its other plans in relation to the radical strategic principle. We are a leading delivery partner in the cross-Government, Integrated Data Programme (IDP), to build a comprehensive data service, underpinned by a secure and trusted infrastructure. This will enable Government to make best use of its data assets and support in unlocking the potential of linked data, building up data standards and tools. The IDP will accelerate our progress in data sharing and analysis and provide a model that is fit for purpose to tackle the Government priorities now and in the future; one of the key ambitions of the National Data Strategy. We have achieved critical milestones in this programme during the year including developing the first phases of the technical, data and methodological infrastructure; initial Analytical Lighthouse Projects; production of two outline business cases and a full business case – the latter submitted to HM Treasury in March 2021 seeking the continuation of the Programme through to 2024/25 and beyond.
Through the early phases of IDP the initial series of Analytical Lighthouse Projects have been designed to provide policymakers with evidence and analyses to support major policy initiatives such as Net Zero and the most recent publication on understanding towns in England and Wales – helping policy makers and the public address and understand the Levelling-Up agenda. The COVID-19 risk factors Analytical Lighthouse Project has created a secure unique linked data resource that combines Census, healthcare and death registration data. This has enabled fast production of essential insights into health inequalities to inform government priorities for shielding and lockdown measures. These initial Lighthouse Projects provide practical benefits and examples of how the IDP will operate in the future.
Data ethics and architecture
The establishment of the UKSA Centre for Applied Data Ethics in the period continues to support our strategic ambition of being a recognised leader in the application of data ethics. Work continues to ensure that the statistical and research communities can be radical, ambitious and sustainable in how we use data, whilst ensuring that this remains ethically appropriate.
Our leadership role in government Data Architecture has been enhanced with the cross-government data architecture community (GDAC) growing to 165 members from UK Government, the Devolved Administrations and public sector organisations.
In summary the key area of focus for us in 2020/21 in achieving the cross-cutting analysis and integrated data strategic aim has been in relation to the UK’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. If we stand back from this context however, we can see that we have made significant progress in terms of working together with other colleagues across government in providing the analysis and data that society needs to address the issues of the day – an ongoing and evolving legacy. We have made great strides in boosting the capacity and capability across the wider statistical community which we will continue to build on over the life of our strategy.
Inclusive, quality, coherence, accessibility and timeliness of our core statistics
Statistical production and analysis are not mutually exclusive – in fact they are intertwined with analysis serving to provide additional value to the statistics that are produced. It is important to bear this in mind when assessing this performance report across our two key strategic principles – ‘radical’ and ‘ambitious’ – the production of statistics and their analysis cannot and should not be disaggregated.
Guidance and capability building
Over the last year, the ONS supported the Government Statistical Service (GSS) in aiding the COVID-19 response, producing extensive guidance, training and dedicated expert advice on effective use and communication of data. This included leading a team at the Cabinet Office to support the COVID-19 national press conferences, developing new data pipelines and a wide range of visualisations to ensure that decision makers and the public had access to trusted, accessible information. Further to this the Government Data Quality Hub was established which sets direction and provides support for improving data quality across government. The Hub has published a well received Data Quality Framework for government.
The Data Science Campus has maintained its integral work, partnering with teams in ONS, UK Government and working inclusively internationally to help deliver the UKSA Strategy; whilst ensuring we provide global leadership in data science. The National Data Strategy set a target of training 500 analysts across the public sector in data science by 2021. The Campus has exceeded this target, with 681 analysts across the public sector having been trained to use novel data science tools and techniques. The Campus has established the Data Science Graduate Programme to develop training options and further improve data skills. Apprentices and graduates have supported data science teams in the Campus’s coronavirus response work, delivering insights to decision-makers at the highest level.
In addition, the Campus will be taking the lead in expanding the Data Masterclass for Senior Leaders in partnership with Number 10’s Data Science team as senior leaders across government become increasingly reliant on data to inform critical decisions. A Data Science Accelerator mentoring programme in partnership with Government Digital Service (GDS) is underway and has supported over 250 data science projects across Government to date, with mentors and participants from across the Analysis Function.
Statistics in support of the pandemic response
As stated, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted and served as the context under which all our ongoing activity and programmes have operated in 2020/21 – work through our economic statistics programme is no exception. Over the last year, COVID-19 has resulted in unprecedented changes in how the UK’s economy has operated and performed. The ONS has kept up with that change of pace onboarding new data sources, implementing innovative, fast paced surveys and adapting its methodology to ensure we can continue to accurately measure its change.
The Business Impact of Coronavirus Survey (BICS) was launched early in the pandemic as a fortnightly release to provide critical evidence of the impact to businesses. We have conducted 750,000 surveys through BICS in addition to the circa 1 million standard business surveys. Using data from BICS we have informed some of the most important decisions by providing analyses on furloughing, international trade and business expectations
Our insights into Public Sector Finances data have kept pace as the Government rolled out around 50 separate schemes to support the economy. This has included delivering fast-paced, conceptually ground-breaking work to measure changes in public sector output – particularly in education and healthcare – placing the UK at the forefront of efforts to measure the impact of the pandemic on public services in near real time.
While much attention has been drawn to the COVID-19 response, the production and development of our suite of core Economic Statistics has continued at pace. This has seen the publication of work into experimental GDP estimates using double deflation methods, which have been recognised as international best practice. We will be fully incorporating these world leading methods into our GDP estimates from September 2021. We also published the Natural Capital accounts, providing estimates of the financial and societal value of nature and resources to people in the UK.
January 2021 saw the first published data from our new Funded Occupational Pension Schemes survey. which provides more timely, granular data on this vital area that highlights how individuals are planning for their future and the impact this could have on national finances.
The financial year 2020/21 was the critical year in preparing for Census 2021 with Census Day on 21 March 2021. Census 2021 is the core strategic deliverable of the wider ONS Census and Data Collection Transformation Programme; focusing on transforming the population and social statistics system to produce data that reflects everyone in society. Census 2021 is the first Census where completion will be made primarily through an electronic questionnaire, allowing the public to complete online at a scale never before seen. By March 2021 the creation of an in-house digital cloud infrastructure successfully delivered this first online Census, enabling 30 million respondents to access their Census survey online. This has resulted in phenomenal online take up rates (at just under 90 per cent at the time of writing) including over five million responses processed on one day.
To ensure we achieve our target response rates the programme has been supported by a field force which peaked at circa 20,000 additional staff through the busiest weeks of the Census data collection exercise. The scale of the Census activity across a very short time period in the wider context of a pandemic highlights how significant an achievement this exercise
Various data sets, such as council tax data from over 95 per cent of local authorities, have been used to quality assure the Census responses – maintaining the digital theme. There is still the requirement to provide a physical presence however with Census operations having had to adjust to ensure the field based activities are carried out safely and securely in light of COVID-19 restrictions, which has involved regular testing of Census field staff and adapting to meet the needs of the public. Subsequently, part of the Census 2021 campaign was amended to reassure the public of the safety measures that were being taken to ensure both public and field
Using the lessons learned as we have progressed in our Census planning, research has continued to support recommendations the National Statistician will make in 2023 on the future of the Census. The recommendations will cover the measures necessary to support the transformed system and will be shaped through consultation and engagement with a broad range of audiences.
We have continued our research during 2020/21 into the approach for delivering population, migration and household estimates based on administrative data sources which is an important factor as we consider the future of the Census. We have published research outputs on the ability to use administrative data (in some cases in conjunction with survey data) to provide estimates on: ethnicity at local authority level; overcrowding at
sub-regional level; the number of rooms in housing stock; energy efficiency of housing in England and Wales; labour market status; commuting flows; and income statistics.
We have seen agility and innovation in data collection, data sharing and methods we have moved swiftly in establishing alternative methods for collecting data through 2020/21 driven by our inability to conduct standard face to face survey activity. Government statisticians have been at the forefront of providing a truly UK-wide perspective on prevalence through the CIS. With the support of the UK Government and each of the devolved administrations, data are supplied by the ONS to a shared design and processes, while allowing for survey adaptations to reflect the health requirements and guidelines in each nation.There has been rapid development of new statistics and analysis, and enhanced cross GSS collaboration involving all four nations.
Our achievements across both the Radical and Ambitious strategic principles with rapid development of new statistics and analysis would not have been possible without significant cross-government, cross GSS and collaborative working involving all four nations of the United Kingdom. Similarly, within the ONS our successes have only been possible due to the joint working of colleagues across the organization. Without the technological platforms, methodologies and architecture, dissemination capabilities and the work of our core functional support staff we would not have been able to make such significant progress against our strategic objectives.
Building inclusivity into everything we do
Through our strategy we aim to embed inclusivity as a concept across everything that we do. This section sets out the progress we have made in the period in embedding inclusivity into the way ONS operates as an organisation.
The pandemic has only served to magnify the impact that an individual’s background can have on their lived experience. To understand these disparities, we have needed to ensure that the statistics we produce are fully inclusive in how they reflect the society that they serve.
Inclusive Data Taskforce
In October 2020 we established the Inclusive Data Taskforce – an independent group of senior academics and civil society leaders with significant expertise across a range of equalities issues. The Taskforce has a UK wide remit, to provide recommendations on improving the UK’s inclusive data holdings and infrastructure. The work of the Taskforce will reflect user needs from a broad range of stakeholders including central and local government, academics, civil society, think tanks and businesses. The first recommendations from the Taskforce are expected in 2021. The recommendations will form the basis of a programme of work to be taken forward across the Government Statistical Service.
Highlighting inclusivity issues
More widely, there has been collaboration across the Government Statistical Service (GSS) to collect, analyse and publish economic statistics. Statisticians in the ONS, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) have worked together on a new vision to improve the coherence of income and earnings statistics and provide the best insights possible.
The new local area child poverty statistics (CiLIF), jointly developed by DWP and HMRC, and published by DWP, replaced previous Official Statistics produced individually by both Departments. These statistics bring together data from across both Departments to give a coherent view of families’ income from benefits, tax credits, and employment and provide insight on child poverty in local communities. These integrated data are also being re-used to further enhance statistics across other themes such as migration and population.
Working with others
Our Secure Research Service (SRS), has been a pivotal part of ONS’s support to researchers from across sectors, enabling linkage and analysis of data to inform government interventions. In 2020, a total of 19 new datasets were made available to researchers through the SRS, thanks to investment from Administrative Data Research UK, including eight looking at the impacts of COVID-19. In all, 204 new pieces of analysis were approved.
ONS has developed a partnership with Health Data Research UK to develop the Government Office of Science National Core Study on Data and Connectivity. This partnership has enabled for the first time linkage of health and social datasets for use by researchers across the four nations of the UK as part of the ongoing research response to COVID-19. Most recently information on COVID-19 vaccinations has been approved for use in future research.
Inclusivity within UKSA
Looking inwardly, at the outset of the pandemic, we ensured that we kept all our staff up to speed with developments publishing guidance on the regional impacts of the lockdowns, how the organisation could assist those with caring commitments and providing support for the significant numbers of our staff working from home. This engagement has continued with regular intranet updates, weekly all staff messages and monthly all staff calls with senior leaders where everyone has an opportunity to comment and raise questions or concerns.
Our Inclusion Strategy which aims to further develop and maintain an inclusive and diverse workforce and leadership was published early in the financial year. This longer-term plan sets out the ways in which we aim to embed inclusivity into our culture – in March we launched Inclusion Listening groups which set out to gain a deeper understanding of the issues facing our colleagues.
As part of the strategy, we have launched several programmes in 2020/21 including a leadership programme aimed at colleagues from minority ethnicities recognising that diversity through our leadership is paramount for our ongoing success.
Developing a wider sense of inclusion and ‘togetherness’ is vital from an individual and organisational perspective. In 2020/21 we have developed a mutual mentoring scheme which pairs colleagues from different roles and areas across the organisation to work together to support each other’s development. Colleagues new to the organisation have been grouped into specific induction cohorts helping to build a network from ‘Day One’ with each cohort being sponsored by a senior leader who acts as a touchpoint for the cohort in the first few months.
The wellbeing of all our colleagues has been a paramount concern particularly through the winter months with many local and centrally led initiatives introduced to try to help. Our Winter Wellbeing programme with nearly 700 participants is one such example. Our MIND Workplace Wellbeing Survey Index gave ONS a silver accreditation for 2020/21 which is a great achievement but shows that we can still improve.
Our people are the reason why we have been so successful in 2020/21 even though they have been faced with significant difficulties and challenges. They have remained engaged throughout which is evidenced through a significant uplift of 5% in our People Survey response rates and an overall engagement index score of 71% which is a record for ONS and an increase on 2019 of eight percentage points. The section of the survey that considers ‘Inclusion’ increased from 79% in 2019 to 85% in 2020.
We have achieved Working Families Index Top 30 ‘Employer of Choice’ status during the year and have launched specific policies such as the new family leave framework to support our colleagues. Our Life Chances scheme went live in February 2021 with our first match starting in our organisation in March.
We recognise that there are always improvements that we can make to ensure that all our colleagues enjoy fulfilling careers and maximise their contribution to the achievement of our aims. Inclusion and diversity remain essential cornerstones of our strategy with our Inclusion Strategy and ancillary deliverables ensuring that our actions reflect our intent. We have made good progress particularly given the wider context in 2020/21 but recognise that this is very much the start of the journey.
Building a sustainable and efficient business model
As with the other strands of our strategy, the need to build an efficient, sustainable organisation to support delivery has been brought in to sharp focus because of the pandemic. The pandemic has however introduced a set of circumstances which have – through necessity – facilitated longer term plans and re-emphasised the importance of our desire to keep pace with technological advancements to help drive value internally, across government and globally.
Building sustainability across the analysis function
We have been rolling Reproducible Analytical Pipelines (RAP) out across the government Analysis Function, building capability through consultancy and mentoring, and supporting implementation with standards and guidance. Our RAP champions, are drawn from all major departments and professions, promoting good practice, running peer reviews, sharing what works, tackling blockers and building local capability. RAP deployments have achieved notable efficiencies and quality improvements in official statistics production in ONS, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the Department for Education (DfE), the Department for Transport (DfT), DWP, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Public Health England (PHE) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) as we embed these new ways of working.
International sustainability and the environment
We remain at the forefront of producing environmental statistics, such as measures of Natural Capital – including marine and woodland habitats, urban areas, and tourism and outdoor leisure – and engaging internationally to support development as well as work to go ‘beyond GDP’.
We continue to be a global leader in reporting on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), covering topics from renewable energy, through food insecurity, to non-formal education participation. We have worked with the US on an open-source web platform to disseminate SDG statistics. Five more countries have started using this free-to-reuse platform over the past year, along with two cities and regions now publishing using it with two more in development – all with direct or indirect ONS support.
When the pandemic halted ‘in-country’ training, we quickly adapted to virtual alternatives and developing materials such as a public ‘wiki’ quick start guide and YouTube video tutorials. These knowledge products support our partner countries internationally in maintaining and developing further their SDG reporting sites.
A Sustainable Business Model
Work on the new cloud-based technology to support transformation continues and a user test/parallel run of Retail Sales Index using the Statistical Production Platform will start in Autumn 2021. This will be the first ONS survey using this infrastructure and will provide many of the building blocks needed for future transformation of business and potentially social surveys.
We have made further progress in moving our surveys online with 45% business surveys fully online where users complete the surveys via their online accounts (annual impact of 1,080,011) as at the end of March 21.
In the overwhelming majority of cases our staff have been able to operate effectively from home throughout 2020/21 aided by the provision of tools and infrastructure. This included up-scaling our remote access service by over 500% at the outset of the pandemic – maintaining this level of service throughout. We have delivered over 6,000 pieces of office and IT equipment to our staff in the year. ONS successfully migrated to TEAMS for meetings in late 2020 with over 500 users operating on full TEAMS functionality by the end of the year. All staff will move to TEAMS telephony (with the exception of our contact centre) in early 2021/22 which offers significant functional benefits. Our previous Sharepoint live sites and data have been migrated to Microsoft 365 with staff being supported through the wider rollout of 365 products to ensure they are comfortable with the new features such as OneDrive and OneNote. This new functionality enables much wider collaborative working and centralized storage and archiving.
We are shortly due to publish our refreshed ONS Strategic Business Plan which is built on an integrated planning process reflected in our monthly governance reporting cycle. This enables us to monitor and manage the organisation more effectively and channel our use of resources more efficiently. As part of this planning cycle refresh, we have focused on our ongoing statistical and analytical priorities and the sustainability of our core enabling functions.
We initiated the Brilliant, Aligned and Sustainable Enabling (BASE) functions review to examine the coherence, alignment and focus of the enabling functions in the delivery of the UKSA Strategy and the business support they provide. This will be vital generally in maximising our potential to deliver for the public good and more specifically as we prepare for the anticipated Spending Review in Summer 2021. The recommendations from the review and ancillary activities flowing from them will help drive efficiency and effectiveness throughout the organisation.
Our Commercial function has heavily supported the organisation through the establishment of key COVID-19 contracts and has maintained its support for Census 2021 by managing the critical third-party service delivery contracts.
Our staff and suppliers have suffered no derogation in service in terms of payroll and payments which has required a movement from primarily paper based to digitised record keeping whilst we have been working remotely. We have initiated the Corporate Systems Improvement Programme (CSIP) focused on driving improvements in user experience and efficiency through process re-engineering, greater automation and corporate systems synergy. To date CSIP has delivered a new Purchase to Pay process and discoveries on new Strategic Workforce Planning, Risk and Programme Management solutions. CSIP is still in an early stage of development, but it is through this vehicle that we will primarily generate greater back-office efficiency over the coming years.
2020/21 was the first year of our multi-year Strategy and strategic business plan. We have focused on building the foundations for our future work alongside delivering core strategic objectives which include initiating and operating the COVID-19 Infection Survey and ancillary work; the final preparations, communications and operations underpinning Census 2021; working through the initial phases of the Integrated Data Programme; continuing to transform our Economic and Public Policy statistics and analysis; and putting in place the building blocks for an inclusive and sustainable business model.
Our achievements over the year have required us to think collectively as ‘One ONS’. The front-line successes have only been possible through the hard work of those involved in the process from end to end – survey collection, data ingest and processing through our data architecture and technical infrastructure, analysis and dissemination. All supported by our back-office functions – our procurement, human resource, finance and planning capabilities.
Challenges we have faced
The introduction to this section and the assessment of performance has highlighted the significant impact the pandemic has had on our organisation both in terms of deliverables and in terms of the ways in which we have had to adjust the way we operate. We further assess the COVID-19 specific impacts in the sections below.
The EU Exit transition period ended on 31 December 2020. This event did not materially impact upon the operation of our organisation however we have re-focussed our efforts across our statistical and analytical areas to produce data and insights which will help the UK better understand the impacts of EU Exit.
Managing the implications of the one-year Spending Review 2020 (SR20) settlement has led to significant internal planning activity as we prepared for financial year 2021/22 and beyond. A one-year financial settlement has introduced additional planning needs which have to be considered alongside other planning assumptions as we prepare for the anticipated Spending Review in 2021 (SR21).
One significant challenge has been the need to balance the delivery of our core strategy with the urgent priorities and widespread impacts of the pandemic and other external factors. The cumulative impact of the combination of unprecedented events does however emphasise the scale of achievements during the year.
The Accountability Report in Chapter three provides additional and more detailed information around the specific risks that we face as an organisation and a summary of our key mitigations.
The impacts of the pandemic can be summarised under two broad headings – how the organisation has assisted in the nation’s response to the pandemic; and how the pandemic has impacted upon us as an organisation including how we have interacted with our third-party suppliers.
The preceding paragraphs in this section of the report go into detail as to the role ONS has played in assisting in the UK’s response to the pandemic. This has however placed significant strain at times on our people and resources. Whilst we have managed to make good progress across our strategic aims there is no doubt that our work related to COVID-19 has needed to take precedence over most of our other plans where we have faced constraints.
There have been significant impacts on the organisation, its staff and our ways of working as a direct result of the pandemic. These impacts have translated into reduced capacity at times stretching our resources. One of the positive aspects of this was our ability to effectively switch to an almost 100 per cent remote working organisation overnight. This is a testament to our ongoing investment in technology and infrastructure capabilities and the work of our IT services in the early stages of the first national lockdown. Some of the learning that we have taken from the unprecedented situation will enable us to radically transform the patterns and ways in which we work in the future as a legacy.
We have followed the central government guidelines set out at the beginning of the pandemic under the Procurement Policy Note 02/20 to support our third parties. All payments made have been in line with this guidance. No payment made has been material either individually or in aggregate.
Costs for office equipment and further IT equipment (such as laptops and peripherals) have increased as expected in facilitating wholesale working from home. There have also been additional facilities management costs associated with ensuring our estate is kept safe for those who have needed to access our site for critical activity or more widely in line with the periodic lockdown easing.
Netting off this additional cost is a significant operational saving due to our inability to travel on official business either between our sites or elsewhere.
We have aided our staff – again in line with central government guidance from Cabinet Office – in terms of increased costs that our staff have incurred as a result of working at home. These costs have been minimal and cover re-imbursement for office consumables and evidence-based claims for excess household expenditure (net of travel expense savings) up to a maximum of £26 per month.
Many of our staff have caring responsibilities which has presented them with significant difficulties throughout the year as lockdown restrictions have impacted schools amongst other things. To support our colleagues, we introduced a special leave policy which allowed staff to work around their caring commitments or where this was impossible to claim special leave. There is no additional cost associated with this policy although overall workforce capacity at times has been significantly reduced – sometimes by up to an estimated 20 per cent. Conversely, given the demands on the organisation, colleagues have also needed to work for extended periods at times and annual leave take up this year has been significantly below what would have been expected under normal circumstances.
Where colleagues have not been able to work remotely given the nature of their responsibilities, we have looked to re-deploy staff to other areas of the business, other activities or in some instances made them available to work with other government departments. There have been periods however where some of our staff have been on extended special leave due to the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions on their normal working practices.
We have incurred significant additional costs associated with operating the COVID-19 Infection Survey, wider ancillary studies and the enhanced Opinions and Lifestyle Survey. These major activities have been funded in their entirety through central government or other government departments.
Given the change in context since the strategic business plan was published, including the COVID-19 response and the one-year Spending Review settlement, we have carried out a more in-depth review of our future plans than would have normally been the case. This review started in December 2020 with the refreshed strategic business plan shortly due to be published. Our strategic principles remain the same although we have reviewed our strategic objectives, streamlining them to improve clarity and ensure clear accountability for their delivery at the most senior levels in the organisation.
Our businesses prioritisation framework has been refreshed to inform the development of the 2021/22 accountability framework objectives – the means by which senior leaders, and from their all staff, are given responsibility for deliverables. The 2021/22 business planning round involved numerous collaborative workshops to ensure that priorities were agreed, and cross-ONS dependencies were highlighted at an early stage in the planning cycle to support ‘enabling’ areas of ONS to develop practical schedules for delivery. With agreed priorities and a one-ONS plan in place, the business will also initiate quarterly reviews of the plan to ensure it continues to evolve with changing priorities.
The anticipated 2021 Spending Review (SR21) will establish multi-year budgets across government. The outcomes of SR21 will be factored into our next business plan refresh in readiness for 2022/23.Back to top