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My reflections of the Authority Board

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The UK Statistics Authority Board provides the top level of governance for our national system of official statistics, reporting direct to the Parliaments and Assemblies of the UK, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Friday’s meeting of the Board was a particularly important one since it was the first with David Norgrove in the Chair.

A lot of work goes into these meetings. Rob Bumpstead and his team had been busy behind the scenes for weeks working to ensure all the papers were in order and speakers well briefed and prepared for a busy agenda.

David began with his first impressions. He has clearly been enthused by what he has seen so far across the GSS. He has also picked up positive feedback from other stakeholders about the direction we are taking. He is ambitious for official statistics and keen to play his role in both supporting and challenging us to succeed. Like us, he can see a brilliant period of opportunity over the next few years.

Brief reports followed from those non-executive directors who are Chairs of the various Board sub-committees – Audit and Risk (Colette Bowe), Administrative Data Research Network (David Hand), Regulation (Adrian Smith) and Remuneration (David Norgrove). Nora Nanayakkara also gave her reflections on a day spent in Newport earlier in the week.

I then took the Board through our preparations for the upcoming general election and outlined six major milestones in the transformation of official statistics that had been met since the last Board meeting at the beginning of March:

  1. The passing of the Digital Economy Act – enabling much better access to public and private sector data for the purposes of official statistics and research
  2. The launch of the Data Science Campus
  3. The census test – now in full swing
  4. A joint ONS/Bank of England showcase of the Flow of Funds project – this is a major initiative to improve our understanding of financial transactions within the economy
  5. New format for the publication of consumer prices statistics
  6. Four ONS business surveys now online, covering 38,000 business.

Each of these represents a major achievement. Taken together they demonstrate a real quickening of the pace of transformation.

I also updated the Board on initiatives to improve our business planning for the years ahead, including a workshop I had chaired when we had been joined by non-Executive Board member, Jonathan Haskell. I reminded the Board that we still face major risks, for example to sustain survey response rates, in the period between now and when our transformation efforts come to fuller maturity. The Board was most supportive, asking probing questions on management capacity, succession planning and recruitment for example.

Next up was consideration of my review of pre-release access to statistics. With support from Glenn Everett and his team in ONS, and GSS Heads of Profession across the GSS, I had completed a zero based review of pre-release access to ONS statistics, with major reductions. The outcome of the review had come into effect in March and the experience to date gave a good opportunity to assess the current landscape.

Then came Ed Humpherson’s report on recent activities in statistics regulation. Ed highlighted work on the Code of Practice for Statistics, recent regulatory correspondence, consumer prices statistics, student migration statistics and crime statistics.

This was followed by a series of papers looking at the year ahead and the forward agenda for the Board. The Board had an in depth look beyond the current stocktake of the Code of Practice before hearing from Tom Smith about plans for the next stage in the work of the Data Science Campus. After that there was an update from Ross Young on using the Digital Economy Act provisions to increase the use of administrative data, taking a particular look at plans for the census. Finally, Frankie Kay and Rebecca Riley shared their plans for the Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence. Taken together these presentations whetted the appetite of Board members for a big year of delivery in 2017-18.

We are fortunate in having such engaged and supportive non-Executive members of our Board. They add immense value to the GSS.  With David Norgrove as our Chair we can feel very positive about the prospects for adding ever greater value to British public life.

John