Latest on regulation

Today the UK Statistics Authority’s regulatory function is implementing a series of changes to the way the function operates, and moving forward from now we will be the ‘Office for Statistics Regulation’.

 Statistics are a valuable public asset. But like any asset, they can be subject to misuse, not be maintained, or become obsolete. The prevention of these harms sits at the heart of the Authority’s strategy, and that’s why we are clarifying the Authority’s regulatory work through the establishment of a more clearly distinct Office for Statistics Regulation.

The purpose of the Office for Statistics Regulation is to enhance public confidence in the trustworthiness, quality and value of statistics. We will continue set standards through the Code; to uphold those standards, celebrating when they are met and challenge publicly when they are not. At heart, we want to be champions of relevant public statistics in a changing world.

So this is a significant change – a clear statement of the importance of regulation through the creation of a distinct and visible new Office for Statistics Regulation. But the change of name is not meaningful if it’s not accompanied by regulatory decisions that reflect our ambitions.

We have several important outputs in coming weeks. First, when we look forward, we see ever-growing interest in the role of operational and Big Data. So today we are publishing further work on administrative data. Second, we will publish the first of our new format Assessment reports over the next few weeks. These reports focus much more on the key outcomes we want from statistics – that they are trustworthy, high quality and high public value. Third, in mid-December we will publish the conclusion of our Code of Practice stock take, which will set an ambition for the Code to be an enabler, not a barrier, of the highest public value in statistics. And we’ve got important new work coming out, for example on National Insurance numbers for adult overseas nationals, and on improving the system of health and care statistics in England.

On the use of statistics, we’ve been busy this autumn, commenting on the use of statistics on grammar schools; on clinical standards in health and on increases in health spending. I expect this activity to continue.

Our most powerful tools are not a set of formal sanctions or detailed rules, but three other tools: first; our public voice; second, the National Statistics designation as a brand indicating the highest standards; and third the Code itself as a way of establishing norms of professional behaviour in the production and communication of statistitcs. I think this distinctive approach is important, and I’d like to write another blog about it in a few weeks time.

We will also strive for improvement in our own work. The work we are publishing today on administrative data consists of an honest review of the experience of statistical teams across government as they implemented our standard on administrative data. We find much to learn from, and much to respect too in the excellent work of the Government Statistical Service.

This striving for improvement underpins the move to an Office for Statistics Regulation. We are making this change to improve, because we recognise that in the past the Authority’s regulatory work has not always had the impact it should have had; and because we care deeply about the role of statistics as a core asset for government and for society.

Ed Humpherson
Director General for Regulation
24 November 2016