Item NumberItem DetailsItem Notes
5 mins
Minutes and matters arising from previous meetings
Declarations of interest
Meeting of 15 December 2020
10 mins
Report from the Authority ChairOral report
Sir David Norgrove
20 mins
Report from the Chief ExecutiveSA(21)01
Prof. Sir Ian Diamond
10 mins
Report from the Director-General for RegulationSA(21)02
Ed Humpherson
5 mins
Report from Committee Chair
• Audit and Risk Assurance Committee
Oral report
Nora Nanayakkara
20 mins
Statistical Quality SA(21)03
Jonathan Athow
30 mins
Census and Data Collection Transformation Programme SA(21)04
Iain Bell
Nicola Tyson-Payne
10 mins
10 mins
15 mins
COVID-19 Infection Survey and Surveillance Studies SA(21)05
Emma Rourke
Iain Bell
15 mins
Statistics in the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement SA(21)06
Will Laffan
15 mins
Strategy update SA(21)07
Nick Bateson
Douglas Cameron
15 mins
Strategic Risks SA(21)08
Nick Bateson
10 mins
Any Other Business

Next meeting: 25 February 2021, 10:30-14.00, via videoconference

Minutes – Thursday 28 January 2021


UK Statistics Authority

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

Also in attendance:

  • Jonathan Athow
  • Nick Bateson
  • Iain Bell
  • Owen Brace
  • Robert Bumpstead
  • Douglas Cameron (Secretariat)
  • Sally-Ann Jones (Secretariat)
  • Alison Pritchard
  • Emma Rourke (for item 10)
  • Nicola Tyson-Payne (for item 9)
  • Amy Williams (Secretariat)


  • Professor Jonathan Haskel
  • Professor Anne Trefethen


  1. Apologies were received from Professor Anne Trefethen and Professor Jonathan Haskel.

2 – Declarations of interest

  1. Mr Dobbs had noted a conflict of interest regarding the COVID-19 Infection Survey agenda item in advance of the meeting.

3 – Minutes and matters arising from previous meetings

  1. The minutes of the previous meeting held on 15 December 2020 were agreed.

4 – Report from the Authority Chair

  1. Non-executive directors had met prior to the Board meeting. They had discussed Internal Audit and assurance.
  2. The Chair reported on his recent activity since the Board last met:
    1. 0n 6 January Sir David, Richard Dobbs, Alison Pritchard and Ed Humpherson had met to discuss the review by Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) of the approaches to developing statistical models designed for awarding 2020 exam results;
    2. Sir David and Professor Sir Ian Diamond had discussed the strategy, Statistics for the Public Good, at an event for Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) analysts and heard about the work of MHCLG;
    3. Sir David, Sir Ian and Ed Humpherson had met William Wragg MP (Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee) on 21 January to discuss vaccine statistics, the official statistics system and the role of the ONS and the National Statistician in relation to the analytical system as a whole; and
    4. on 25 January Board members had attended a workshop on the Integrated Data Programme led by Alison Pritchard.

5 – Report from the Chief Executive [SA(21)01]

  1. Sir Ian provided the Board with an overview of activity and issues since the last meeting highlighting the following:
    1. in December 2020, two ad-hoc releases of statistics regarding the COVID-19 Infection Survey (CIS) on the prevalence and impact of the Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions had been published. With schools currently closed across the UK the next phase of the Schools Infection Survey had been paused;
    2. work with colleagues across different health organisations toward the development of a public health data asset was ongoing;
    3. as part of the work of the Health and Pandemic Insights Group international comparisons and the impact of long-Covid had been considered;
    4. Sir Ian had been asked to chair a cross-government data analysis group sponsored by the Chief Secretary of HM Treasury, as part of the work across government to reduce inequalities through the levelling up agenda;
    5. a blog had been published on the work being undertaken by ONS at pace to assess the impact of the pandemic on the population. Sam Beckett had appeared on the Today programme to discuss ONS population, migration and labour market statistics;
    6. Sir Ian had met the Director General of Eurostat, Mariana Kotzeva, on 19 January to discuss the statistical element of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement going forward. Both had welcomed the opportunity to further discuss statistical matters in support of the Agreement; and
    7. the work by the International Development Team and Official Development Assistance funding. A paper would be provided for the Board at a forthcoming meeting.
  2. Board members discussed the update. With regard to international comparisons of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) it was noted that changes in GDP during the pandemic were not always directly comparable with between countries due to differences in the measurement of public goods such as health and education. Further analysis of the issue would shortly be published by ONS.

6 – Report from the Director General for Regulation [SA(21)02]

  1. Ed Humpherson provided an update on regulation activity since the last meeting. The draft report of OSR’s review of the development process for statistical models designed to award 2020 exam results had been shared for comment with the UK regulators. The Board heard that OSR would be liaising further with Ofqual.
  2. OSR had written to producers of health-related statistics across the UK regarding vaccine roll-out statistics. It was noted that the approach to vaccine statistics had been more structured than the approach to testing data in April and May last year. OSR had written separately to the Department of Health for Northern Ireland outlining the need for consistency when releasing data about vaccines.

7 – Report from the Chair of the Audit and Risk Assurance Committee

  1. Nora Nanayakkara reported on the Audit and Risk Assurance Committee which had met on 21 January. The Board heard that a closed session had been held for members to consider the provision of the Internal Audit function. Committee members had agreed the recommended option, that Amanda Smith would cover both Internal Audit and Risk and Assurance through to year end, with the appropriate safeguards in place. The Committee would consider the future model for Internal Audit further in May.
  2. The Committee noted the progress made by People Business and Services in relation to skills and capabilities. With regard to the COVID-19 Infection Survey (CIS), members had commended the organisation for being agile enough to stand up and carry out a highly innovative project such as the CIS. The Committee had also commended the Census team for their open and transparent reporting throughout the delivery of the programme.
  3. The Committee also considered the programme of Internal Audit Reviews. Further work would be undertaken on legacy uplift.
  4. The Committee had considered the financial position; and the progress made to embed the risk framework across the organisation with a new Head of Risk joining ONS in May.

8 – Statistical Quality [SA(21)03]

  1. Jonathan Athow introduced a paper which provided an update on the current work on statistical quality in the ONS. The meeting heard that statistical quality was central to the work of ONS and wider Government Statistical Service (GSS). Following work by Internal Audit and consideration by the Audit and Risk Assurance Committee, and as part of the revised executive governance framework, a new Quality Committee had been established to oversee the programme of work. The Quality Committee drew membership from across the ONS and wider GSS. The importance of external involvement in quality work was discussed.
  2. The programme of work included: a series of quality deep dives to investigate quality in particular statistical domains; quality improvement plans for each division; and the roll out of a new statistical quality maturity model self-assessment tool. Other initiatives included surveys of staff attitudes to quality; new metrics for measuring and monitoring quality; and overseeing the ongoing implementation of the Macpherson principles for best practice in modelling. A detailed plan was in development which would include the risk and assurance framework underpinning the programme.
  3. Board members discussed the update and noted the need to consider data quality and the communication of statistics as part of this work. The refreshed governance framework would underpin the links between Quality Committee, Data Governance Committee and Communications Committee to ensure all aspects were considered.
  4. It was agreed that the relative roles of ONS and OSR regarding quality would be further considered.

9 – Census and Data Collection Transformation Programme [SA(21)04]

  1. Iain Bell and Nicola Tyson-Payne introduced a paper which provided an update on the Census and Data Collection Transformation Programme. Key operational aspects of the Census were considered. They highlighted the plans and mitigations that had been put in place to prioritise the safety of field staff and the public during the collection operation.
  2. The Board heard that the digital build was close to 100 per cent. Testing was progressing at pace with 89 per cent of Systems Acceptance testing either complete or in progress for households and communal establishments, and 87 per cent of the build for Census Coverage Survey complete or in progress. Non-functional testing was progressing well. The load on the system had been tested to cope with twice the predicted model and in the event of a peak, respondents would experience a small delay.
  3. Progress on the media campaign included engagement at a national and local level with articles in local press and on local radio. The Census communications team would use a specialist set of tools to monitor social media. The Programme Board would make a final decision on 9 February regarding the launch of the media campaign on 12 February.
  4. Engagement with Local Authorities had received a range of feedback. A task force had been set up to review and mitigate for any data implications arising from the impact of some population groups not being in their usual residence. It was noted that students were likely to be the largest group this might impact.
  5. The sex question guidance was being finalised after the research completed.
  6. Board members discussed the update. Weekly progress updates would be provided for Board starting early March.

10 – COVID-19 Infection Survey and Surveillance Studies [SA(21)05]

  1. Iain Bell and Emma Rourke introduced a paper which provided an update on the CIS programme. The survey’s performance continued to exceed the requirement to deliver 150,000 unique test per fortnight in England.
  2. The Board commended the ONS for the work on the CIS and openness and transparency of ONS in dealing with issues of a programme of this size.

11 – Statistics in the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement [SA(21)06]

  1. Will Laffan introduced a paper which provided a summary of statistical aspects of the new Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the UK and the EU. Future statistical cooperation was covered in one key clause. A set of principles had been developed to underpin future discussions with Eurostat.
  2. The Board welcomed the update.

12 – Strategy Update [SA(21)07]

  1. Douglas Cameron and Nick Bateson introduced a paper which provided the second quarterly update on progress against the delivery of the strategy, Statistics for the Public Good.
  2. The 2020 departmental People Survey results evidenced the positive impact of the new strategy with the score for the understanding of organisational objectives and purpose now at 85 per cent. The delivery plans of both ONS and OSR aligned with the principles of the strategy: Radical, Ambitious; Inclusive and Sustainable.
  3. There were a number of key challenges and opportunities in the coming months, including the delivery of the Census and enhanced statistics on COVID-19 vaccination rollout. It was noted that the business planning and prioritisation process would seek to ensure that resources and capacity were optimised to meet the challenges ahead. In addition, the work with the Analysis Function would help ensure a system wide approach to statistical and analytical priorities.

13 – Strategic Risk [SA(21)08]

  1. Nick Bateson introduced a paper which provided an update on reporting and oversight mechanisms to monitor progress against strategic risks. The refreshed governance framework had embedded risk management at its core, with National Statistics Executive Group sub committees responsible for oversight and challenge of the plans in place to mitigate risks and identify opportunities within the risk appetite range.
  2. The Board heard that the strategic risks were part of a wider programme of work to strengthen ONS’s assurance mechanisms. This included the development of an integrated assurance framework.

14 – Any other business

  1. The Authority Board would meet next on 25 February 2021 by videoconference.