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Old Friends

I kissed my Mum goodbye, put my rucksack on, shut the door and walked up the street to the station. No one in my family had been to university before and I didn’t have any idea what to expect. Within a few days I found myself in a bar with a few other lads trying to work out what we had let ourselves in for. Over the next three years we became friends. After graduation said we would keep in touch. Our lives went off in different directions and we didn’t get together as a group again.

Until now, when we met up (with partners) for a weekend. We were the same six lads who met in 1977. The same easy rapport, winding each other up, joking at each other’s expense, setting the world to rights, sharing scrapes we had got into, talking about good times and bad times. Our partners were amused and baffled by our banter but I think they enjoyed the weekend too.

It was a reminder of what is important – other people; experiencing and making the most of life whatever comes along. We had all taken different paths in retail, manufacturing, energy and finance jobs – plus me in statistics. Living in different countries. Having highs and lows in our personal lives. We had all got new skills and had had a go at learning from experience. We still hadn’t got any idea what the future would have in store but we were still the same people and that felt good.

Back at work, July is always a big month in my job, getting the annual report and accounts out and lots of big set piece meetings. This year, against the backdrop of post-election politics, our July releases have also been, even more than usually, eagerly awaited and scrutinised – inflation, crime, labour market, population, the economy, public finances: each has generated lots of debate which has taken place alongside external interest in the change to the rules on pre-release access which came into effect at the beginning of the month.

I have also tried to sustain opportunities in my schedule to meet teams across the GSS to support them, thank them and learn more about what they do. The teams I met at the Ministry of Defence, interviewing at Heathrow Airport and responsible for crime statistics particularly inspired me. At the wider level I had the opportunity to talk at Civil Service Live in Birmingham and London, meet academics at Bristol and Nottingham universities, welcome my counterpart from Austria who was visiting the UK, speak at the GSS Methodology Symposium and give out the award for official statistics at the Royal Statistical Society (to a team from the Scottish Government) to give just a few of the highlights. These together with the usual fare of correspondence, meetings, recruitment and the like mean that it could have been easy to just blink and find the month had gone.

My weekend with old friends, however, has been a reminder of what is important. Being around good people, delivering things together, learning new things, reflecting on experience… and laughing. They help us be resilient, celebrate the positive and get through the things that just have to be done.

I am lucky and am now off to Cornwall on my holiday. If you are having a holiday too, enjoy it. If you are not, I hope you get a bit of time during the summer to relax and recharge. We all have jobs where we can be confident that what we do makes a real positive contribution to the public good and, from everyone I meet, work alongside other talented people who care about making a difference. That doesn’t mean things are easy but for me at least it counts for a lot.


John Pullinger
John Pullinger
John Pullinger is the National Statistician. He is the UK Statistics Authority’s and the Government’s principal adviser on official statistics. He is the Head of the Government Statistical Service (GSS) and, as the Authority’s Chief Executive and Permanent Secretary, is a member of the Board of the UK Statistics Authority.

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