Statement from the Office for Statistics Regulation – COVID-19 Update

We welcome the work of analysts across a range of organisations in providing the public with information related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pace at which these organisations have set up new data collection and dissemination processes has been unprecedented and enabled timely updates on the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. We warmly congratulate all those who are contributing to this effort.

Estimates for the number of cases and deaths for the whole UK are being published and each of the four nations within the UK should continue to collaborate to enable UK reporting as statistics are developed further.

In our discussions with producers of statistics, we have seen a commitment to continuously improve the information provided to the public. Following these discussions, there have been improvements to provide greater clarity, including:

  • clarification of what the daily figures published by Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) do and do not include (those who have died in hospitals and who have tested positive for COVID-19);
  • improvements to the supporting information on the Public Health England (PHE) dashboard, including clearer explanation of the sources and coverage of these figures;
  • explanation in the Office for National Statistics (ONS) weekly deaths statistics of how COVID-19 related deaths impact on the figures;
  • clarification of how ONS and DHSC figures relate to each other through the joint statement published by DHSC and ONS;
  • cessation of publication of a “patients recovered” figure by Public Health England because of data quality limitations.

Clear explanations of what the data mean for Northern Ireland and the commitment to regular publication times in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also support user confidence.

It is important that statistics producers continue to enhance the information available to the public. We have been assured that statistics producers are working to make developments, including:

  • further breakdowns of the data and more information about hospital admissions;
  • more information on the capacity of and demands on the health system, building on the analysis of NHS 111 calls published by NHS Digital;
  • further explanation of how the figures from the UK’s four nations compare to one another;
  • and, in the medium term, greater information about the demographic characteristics of people who are confirmed as having or having had COVID-19.

COVID-19 and the UK Statistics System

Commenting on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority Sir David Norgrove has today said:

“The UK’s statistical system is continuing to serve the public good in the face of the challenges posed by the new coronavirus (COVID-19).

“The Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) have set out plans to ensure that their work continues and adapts at a time when good evidence is more important than ever.”

Related Links:

Statement from the Office for National Statistics: COVID-19 and the production of statistics

Statement from the Office for Statistics Regulation: COVID-19 and the regulation of statistics

Sir Ian Diamond’s letter to Ed Humperson regarding changes to statistical production and publication as a result of COVID-19 (March 2020)

Ed Humpherson’s response to Sir Ian Diamond (March 2020)

Ed Humpherson’s blog post on Covid-19 and the regulation of statistics (March 2020)

 

COVID-19 and the regulation of statistics

Today, The Director General for Statistics Regulation has made the following statement:

“This is a very difficult time for everyone as the UK adjusts to rapid changes in society and the economy. The priority is to protect the health and safety of individuals – including through changing working patterns and practices – and to support the information needs of society.

“Organisations that produce official statistics are rightly showing flexibility and adapting what they collect and publish to respond to this new environment. The Office for Statistics Regulation fully supports this flexibility and the responsiveness shown by producers of statistics.

“We have prepared a package of measures including guidance on factors that producers should consider when making changes to data collection, statistics production and release. We have also set out an approach to rapid regulatory reviews, potentially including National Statistics status, for any new outputs published by producers which inform the public about the coronavirus and its economic and social impacts. We will support sensible changes to existing production practices.”

Joint consultation on the future of the RPI launched by UK Statistics Authority and HM Treasury

In March 2019, UK Statistics Authority recommended to the Chancellor that the shortcomings of the RPI be addressed by bringing the methods and data sources of CPIH into it.

Today The Authority and HM Treasury have launched a joint Consultation on the timing and method of bringing CPIH methods and data sources into the RPI.

HM Treasury will be consulting on the appropriate timing for the proposed changes to the RPI to take place while the UK Statistics Authority will consult on how to make its proposed methodological changes to the RPI in a way that follows best statistical practice.

The consultation will run from today – 11 March – until Wednesday 22 April.

Commenting, the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority Sir David Norgrove said:

“The role of the UK Statistics Authority is to promote and safeguard official statistics.

“I, my predecessors and successive National Statisticians have been clear that the RPI is not a good measure, at times significantly overestimating inflation and at other times underestimating it. However, the RPI is unique as we need consent from the Chancellor to make certain changes, such as the one we have proposed.

“We are seeking feedback from the widest range of users on our proposed method of bringing the methods and data sources of our most comprehensive inflation measure, CPIH, to the RPI.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

The consultation page is available here

Today’s letter (11 March 2020) from Sir David Norgrove to Lord Forsyth is available here

The UK Statistics Authority’s previous statement on the future of the RPI, published in September, is available here

A previously published article, setting out the shortcomings of the Retail Prices Index is available here

The full recommendations from the UK Statistics Authority to the Chancellor can be found here

UK Statistics Authority Statement on the future of the RPI

The Advisory Panel on Consumer Prices provided advice to the National Statistician on the composition of the Retail Prices Index (RPI) in light of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee report Measuring Inflation, published in January 2019.

Taking account of that advice, the then National Statistician concluded that the current position was unsatisfactory and put options for the future of the RPI to the UK Statistics Authority Board on 26 February 2019.

After receiving this advice, Sir David Norgrove, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, wrote on behalf of the Board to the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer on 4 March 2019 with the following recommendations:

  • that the publication of the RPI be stopped at a point in future; and
  • in the interim, the shortcomings of the RPI should be addressed by bringing the methods of the CPIH into it.

Today the Chancellor has announced his intention to consult on whether to bring the methods in CPIH into RPI between 2025 and 2030, effectively aligning the measures. The UK Statistics Authority will consult on the method of making this change.

Speaking today, Sir David said:

“The role of the UK Statistics Authority is to promote and safeguard official statistics.

“We have been clear that the RPI is not a good measure, at times significantly overestimating inflation and at other times underestimating it, and have consistently urged all – in Government and the private sector – to stop using it. However, the RPI is unique as we need consent from the Chancellor to make certain changes, such as the one we have proposed.

“Although we regret that no change will occur before 2025, we welcome the Chancellor’s intention to consult on resolving current issues with the RPI.

“We continue to urge the Government and others to cease to use the RPI. It would be wrong for the Government to continue to use a measure of inflation which it itself accepts is flawed, where it has the opportunity to change.”


 

Notes to Editors

  1. Under Section 21 of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007, before making any change to the coverage or the basic calculation of the RPI, the UK Statistics Authority must consult the Bank of England. Where proposed changes to the RPI are deemed material and detrimental to relevant gilt holders by the Bank of England, changes cannot be made without the consent of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
  2. Under Section 21, Sir David Norgrove wrote to the Governor of the Bank of England on 18 February and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 4 March, proposing:
    1. that the publication of the RPI be stopped at a point in future; and
    2. in the interim, that shortcomings of the RPI be addressed, by bringing the methods of the CPIH into the index.
  3. His letters drew both on the formal advice of the UK’s National Statistician, and on the advice of the National Statistician’s Advisory Panel on Consumer Prices.
  4. The Bank of England responded on 4 March to confirm changes proposed were material and detrimental to holders of relevant gilts.
  5. Following the appointment of a new Chancellor, Sir David Norgrove wrote to the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP on 30 July 2019, highlighting the importance of the issue and the need to resolve at the earliest practical occasion.
  6. The Chancellor responded to the UK Statistics Authority’s proposals on 4 September 2019. In his response, the Chancellor announced his intention to consult on the timing of when to bring the methods in CPIH into RPI, effectively aligning the measures, to give users time to prepare for the many complex effects such a change will have.
  7. Sir David has responded to the Chancellor welcoming the intention to consult, while expressing regret that no change will occur before 2025.  He has also urged users to cease using the RPI.
  8. In 2030 the requirement for the Authority to consult the Chancellor before making changes to the coverage or calculation of the RPI falls away.
  9. While the current Authority Board cannot commit its successors, the statistical weaknesses of the RPI make it unlikely that the Authority would take a different view from our recommendations in 2030
  10. The Authority has also published its response to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee.

 

 

Ian Diamond appointed as UK’s National Statistician

Her Majesty the Queen, on the advice of the Prime Minister, has appointed Professor Sir Ian Diamond as National Statistician. Sir Ian succeeds John Pullinger, who retired at the end of June.

The National Statistician is the Chief Executive of the UK Statistics Authority, Permanent Secretary of the Office for National Statistics and Head of the Government Statistical Service. As Chief Executive of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir Ian will be an executive member of the Board of the UK Statistics Authority.

Sir Ian’s career spans many areas of social and official statistics. Most recently, he served as Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen, and prior to that held the role of Chief Executive of the Economic and Social Research Council. He is also a Fellow of the British Academy, Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Academy of Social Sciences.

Sir David Norgrove, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, warmly welcomed Sir Ian’s appointment:

“I am delighted that we have appointed Sir Ian as the UK Statistics Authority’s new Chief Executive and National Statistician. Ian brings with him enormous professional experience and particular expertise in census design and analysis.

“I would like to record my warm thanks for John Pullinger’s exemplary leadership of the Statistical Service over the last five years as National Statistician before his recent retirement. We have valued enormously John’s professional wise counsel and wish him well for the future.”

The Chief Executive of the Civil Service, John Manzoni, said:

“I would like to congratulate Sir Ian on his appointment. With his considerable standing in the statistics community and talent for analysing large and complex data on population stastistics, I am sure he will provide strong direction for the UK Statistics Authority and Office for National Statistics.

I would also like to thank John Pullinger for his excellent work over the last five years and wish him all the very best for the future”

On the announcement of his appointment by Her Majesty the Queen, Sir Ian Diamond said:

“The UK’s statistical system is one admired world-over and it is an enormous privilege to have been appointed as the UK’s National Statistician. I’m looking forward to building on the work of John Pullinger, as we make use of rich new data sources to deliver the data decision-makers across the UK need.

“I’m particularly excited to be working with staff across the Office for National Statistics and the Government Statistical Service, as we empower our partners in Parliament, academia, business and beyond with trusted and quality data.”

 

Notes to editors:

Professor Sir Ian David Diamond, FBA, FRSE, FAcSS is the former Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen. Previous roles include Chief Executive of the Economic and Social Research Council, Chair of the Research Councils UK Executive Group and Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Southampton. Sir Ian served as chairman of the Social Security Advisory Committee from August 2018 until his appointment as National Statistician. He also served as a non-executive director at the UK Statistics Authority Board until his appointment as National Statistician.

Sir Ian will join as National Statistician on a full-time basis on 22 October 2019. In the intervening period, he will be working to familiarise himself with staff, stakeholders and the statistical system.

Announcement of an interim National Statistician

The current National Statistician John Pullinger is due to leave his post on 30 June.

The UK Statistics Authority Board has asked the Deputy National Statistician for Economic Statistics, Jonathan Athow, to cover the role in the interim.

The announcement of a new National Statistician will be made later in the summer.

Deputy National Statistician Heather Savory leaving the Office for National Statistics to lead the development of the UN Global Platform on Big Data

Beginning next month, Heather will focus her attention on her work with the United Nations Global Working Group on Big Data for Official Statistics (GWG), with the continued support of the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Heather has been involved in this work since 2016 when she was invited to lead a Task Team considering emerging technologies for the use of Big Data, with a focus on enabling the delivery of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since becoming Co-Chair of the GWG in 2016, alongside her role as Director General for Data Capability at ONS, Heather has represented the ONS at an international level as it seeks to collaborate and partner across the statistical community to develop effective solutions to the challenges facing the world today.

To help achieve its mission of harnessing the power of data for better lives, the GWG is developing the UN Global Platform as a collaborative environment for the global statistical community to work together actively sharing knowledge, data and methods. Heather is particularly passionate about this important work and is looking forward to focusing her time, attention and efforts on supporting the United Nations in the development of this Global Platform to deliver tangible and visible public good. The Platform builds on best practices of public and private Big Data initiatives and will aim to provide a global hub for official statisticians, data scientists and domain experts across all sectors to work collaboratively.

National Statistician John Pullinger said:

“Heather has brought great energy and determination to her role as Deputy National Statistician and Director General for Data Capability and I know she will continue to bring that commitment to the UN Global Platform. This project is at the heart of the global ambition to mobilise the power of data.

“Heather leaves ONS digital and data capability in a radically better place than it was four years ago, including through the Data Science Campus, Data Access Platform, Security Strategy, Secure Research Service and other associated infrastructures, policies and services.

“The organisation is now well placed to reap the rewards in the years ahead. Heather will be missed by many colleagues across the Office and I am sure they will join me in wishing her well for the future.”

Heather Savory said:

“Our partnership with the UN on the Global Platform has enabled us to trial some of the innovative technologies we have built into our own, new, ONS systems. I want to help build on what has been achieved to-date here, to achieve ‘critical mass’ and give the Global Platform a life of its own for the future. Through this work we will support decision makers across the world with good data to help inform their solutions to the challenges of our world today.

“Over the past four years here at ONS, I have worked with an incredible team to bring about digital and data transformation. I’m enormously proud of what we have achieved during this time. We’ve taken the ONS forward to a place where we are now widely recognised as being at the forefront of digital and data transformation, and statistical modernisation.”

“I would like to express my sincere gratitude and thanks to everyone who has contributed to this transformation. I have been incredibly privileged to lead a superb team and work with fantastic colleagues at the ONS, across government and experts in other sectors.”

 

Introduction of the Census (Return Particulars and Removal of Penalties) Bill

On 1 May 2019, the Census (Return Particulars and Removal of Penalties) Bill had its first reading in the House of Lords.

The Bill will amend the Census Act 1920 to remove the penalty for not responding to new census questions on sexual orientation and gender identity, and add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Schedule of that Act.

This means the 2021 Census in England and Wales, as set out in the proposals in December 2018 by the White Paper “Help Shape our Future: The 2021 Census of Population and Housing in England and Wales”, can include questions on sexual orientation and gender identity that can be answered on a voluntary basis.

 

See also: Gov.uk

Celebrating one year since the refresh of the Code of Practice for Statistics

This time last year, the UK Statistics Authority launched the refreshed Code of Practice for Statistics. 

The refreshed Code has supported and developed thinking on statistics as a public asset based on three pillars – Trustworthiness, Quality and Value.

This has enabled users and producers to have a set of principles that underpin independent statistics production and presentation, ensuring confidence in this essential public asset. This is important because statistics frame public debate. They inform public understanding of what’s going on in the world. They help provide a basis for people to make decisions – whether as policy makers, citizens, professionals or businesses. And they create a common ground for debate – about what’s working, what isn’t working and what needs to change.

 

Speaking on the first anniversary:

Sir David Norgrove, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority said: “It’s essential that people can have confidence in the statistics produced by Government. The Code of Practice for Statistics aims to provide the framework to ensure that statistics are trustworthy, good quality, and valuable. Statistics will serve the public good if producers follow the principles and practices set out in the Code.”

Ed Humpherson, Director General for Regulation said: “In a world of abundant data people want to sift the useful information from the unreliable. The principles of trustworthiness, quality and value really support this aim – and this is why the Code has been endorsed widely inside and outside Government.”

 

Guest blogging on the first anniversary:

Sir David Spiegelhalter, Former RSS President said: “A personal highlight of my last year as RSS President was the new Code of Practice for Statistics … Its emphasis on the trustworthiness of statistics gets to the core of what we are about as a community.” You can read Sir David’s blog here.

John Pullinger, National Statistician said: “The real power of the code is as an antidote to the narratives about loss of trust in institutions in general and in the use of data in particular.” Read John’s blog here.

Steve Ellerd-Elliott, Head of Profession at the Department for Work and Pensions said: “A new aspect of the Code that we have embraced is voluntary application to extend trustworthiness, quality and value to statistics that we routinely publish statistics on benefits, employment programmes and other important subjects that aren’t Official or National statistics.” You can read Steve’s blog here.

 

Note for Editors

The refreshed Code is available in three formats: as a booklet, an online PDF and a newly developed interactive code with case study examples – please visit here.

The Code of Practice for Statistics is an important tool in protecting official statistics by setting the standards which must be met to ensure the public can have confidence in them.

The Code standards are used:

  • by statisticians, and other analysts when producing and publishing official statistics;
  • by the Office for Statistics Regulation when determining whether official statistics can be called National Statistics;
  • by the Authority when publicly challenging the misuse of statistics;
  • to support judgements about the publication of wider numerical information; and
  • to enable statistics that are not currently National or Official statistics to voluntarily apply the principles and support users.

If you have an enquiry or require further information about the refreshed Code of Practice please email the regulation team.

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