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Better statistics: better decisions – ready for the next year of delivery

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The last two weeks of the financial year have really shown the GSS at its best, stepping up the pace of innovation. As we welcome David Norgrove as our new Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, we can look forward with confidence and enthusiasm to a bumper year of delivery against our better statistics: better decisions strategy.

When I blog about my own activities it always seems that I am in lots of meetings but I guess that is just how it is – an occupational hazard of the role despite my best attempts to keep meetings brisk and to a minimum. Here are some highlights from my last two weeks.

On Monday, I chaired the Departmental Directors of Analysis Network. We had a full agenda including the government’s Race Disparities Audit (now gathering data ready for publication),  the Trials Advice Panel (which has come of age giving advice to the many departments using trials in social and economic policy settings), the Magenta Book (on how to do evaluation) and analytical talent management across government. Directors from all departments were unfailingly constructive and collegiate in coming together to support common endeavours.

My highlights of Tuesday were, first, the release of our new look commentary on consumer prices, recognising the more comprehensive measure which incorporates owner occupied housing costs for the first time (CPIH). Handling the sensitivities around this change has been a brilliant effort from the ONS team and many others, not least Kate Barker who chairs our stakeholder advisory group.

The second highlight that day was the National Statistics Executive Group, where we reviewed finances for the end of the current year and looked ahead to planning for the years ahead which will see the full delivery of our strategy. It was a good week to do this as the Digital Economy Bill, which has provisions to enable access to public and private sector data for the purposes of research and statistics, reached its final stages in the House of Lords. We also talked through actions arising from the People Survey, especially how to ensure that positive ratings about the direction we are taking from the most senior managers are also felt by others, whatever role they have.

Wednesday saw me head to Leeds for a range of meetings with colleagues at NHS Digital, the Department of Health and NHS England. There is great work going on in an area of intense Ministerial and public interest. I always enjoy meeting people one to one when they can show me first hand the work they are doing. The emphasis on working across boundaries to get a well rounded analysis of various issues came through very strongly. In the afternoon I visited the Chief Executive of Leeds City Council, which has a great reputation for using data to transform service delivery across the City. He inspired me with lots of ideas and has offered to work closely with government colleagues to share experiences.

While I was there the news broke about the Westminster attack. My first thoughts were with the victims and also with family, friends and colleagues who might have been caught up in the incident. Not long after, texts and emails started coming in about the implications for the GSS. For a while it looked like we might not be able to publish statistics the following day as the gov.uk site was being reserved for communications about the events. However, thanks to the brilliant efforts of the ONS digital publishing team and great teamwork with the various GSS Heads of Profession and their staff we were able to bring an ONS back up site into action and ensure business continuity.

The next day was the GSS Northern Conference attended by over 150 colleagues from a dozen organisations. It was a fabulous showcase of what we are doing and an excellent opportunity to grab good ideas to share with others. Royal Statistical Society President David Spiegelhalter gave a barnstorming, inspirational and hilarious keynote focused on how we shape our messages to get them across (and reduce the risk of them being misrepresented by others). His analysis on the presentation of uncertainty certainly gave me plenty to think about.

Friday was a quieter day for me, catching up on the week and looking forward to what promised to be a great day for UK statistics on Monday. Over the weekend teams of people had been putting the finishing touches to the building ready for the formal opening of the Data Science Campus in Newport, designed to be a symbol of what the GSS is rapidly becoming. On the day everything was perfect, thanks to these extraordinary efforts. The Ministers who joined us – Ben Gummer, Minister for the Cabinet Office, Alun Cairns, Secretary of State for Wales and Julie James Welsh Government Minister for Skills and Science – were impressed and keen to share their feelings with everyone, from the newest apprentice to senior managers. It was also great to hear Pete Benton on the Steve Wright show that afternoon, taking our message out to the Radio 2 audience – good work, Pete.

Tuesday included a planning workshop to chart our course over the coming years, getting resource and delivery plans in sync to maximise the benefits arising from the various transformation activities now underway. I also had a useful meeting with a team from the University of Manchester – University links are becoming increasingly valuable to the GSS and there are plenty of opportunities to build strong and mutually beneficial partnerships with them.

Wednesday saw the Prime Minister’s letter starting the Article 50 process. I joined other Permanent Secretaries at our regular Wednesday Morning Colleagues meeting before chairing the GSS Heads of Profession gathering. As well as Brexit, we discussed a wide range of current issues including the new government Data Advisory Board, Government Digital Service work on registers, the statistics Code of Practice, the GSS International Committee, statistics policy and standards, and apprenticeships. David Norgrove also joined us for his first formal engagement in his new role as UKSA Chair to give an optimistic perspective on our contribution to UK public life.

On Thursday ONS SCS colleagues came together in Newport to work on our collective alignment. As the transformation of ONS gathers pace it is essential that we are all working as one organisation and are seen by all as working together for a common purpose. There is goodwill and determination to make a reality of this ambition and an opportunity through the People Survey to test whether the actions we are taking are engaging all colleagues. There were plenty of excellent examples given at the meeting of where we are making good progress which gives lots of encouragement for the year ahead.

Friday I had booked a day off and was ready for a long weekend with a big family gathering.

John