Following the publication of the Independent Review of UK Economic Statistics (the Bean Review) in March, the Royal Economic Society (RES), the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) organised a one day conference to discuss how the review recommendations can best be taken forward, and how the community of professional economists and statisticians can help the Office for National Statistics in implementing the review.
The day focused on four key topics which were highlighted as areas for further work: the measurement of the regional economy, new data sources and techniques, the measurement of the digital economy, and measurement of alternative GDP indicators.
The meeting opened with a presentation by Professor Sir Charles Bean (pictured left), who set out the main recommendations from his review. The key challenges he raised for a forward-looking modern statistical office in the 21st century were to be strongly focused on user needs, and to put innovation and curiosity at the heart of its thinking and working. Responding to these challenges, John Pullinger, National Statistician, recognised there needed to be a shift in thinking at the Office for National Statistics, which had started taking place already. One of the new initiatives he mentioned was the publication of a draft Economic Analysis Strategy, which he highlighted and which he asked the wider professional communities to comment on.
The first of the four core sessions was chaired by Dr Martin Weale from the Bank of England, and looked at how we can improve the measurement of the regional economies. Both speakers, Andrew Carter from the Centre for Cities, and Professor Alan Harding, from New Economy Manchester, explained the increased importance of data for local authorities as part of the devolution agenda, and highlighted how the central statistical system should expect much more demand for local-level data from devolved administrations in the future.
The second session focused on new data sources and techniques, and how they can contribute to improved measures of the economy. John Aston (Cambridge University) chaired the session which opened with a presentation on highly timely economic indicators through nowcasting techniques from Professor Lucrezia Reichlin (London Business School), followed by an overview of new data developments and their advantages and disadvantages by Professor Mary O’Mahony (King’s College London).
The third session of the day discussed how the current measurement frameworks have difficulties keeping up with new developments in the digital and sharing economy. Chaired by Professor Andrew Chesher (RES President and University College London) the audience heard from Hasan Bakshi (Nesta) about more agile and accurate ways of capturing the digital economy through innovative occupational and industrial classifications, and from Professor Jonathan Haskel (Imperial College Business School) about the impact of the digital economy on a whole range of economic activity measures, including the telecommunications industry.
The fourth and final core session, chaired by former National Statistician Jil Matheson, looked at how we can develop measures beyond the current GDP as an indicator of national success. Professor Diane Coyle (University of Manchester) outlined the strengths and weaknesses of GDP versus alternative measures, and a second presentation by Jooyeoun Suh (Oxford University) highlighted the importance of time use surveys as a data source to capture developments such as unpaid household work.
The final session concluded the day with a panel discussion (pictured right), chaired by Paul Johnson, director of the IFS. He thought the key challenge in taking the review forward would be in not losing sight of the existing data infrastructure and cautioned we shouldn't take surveys and administrative data for granted.
Professor Sir Charles Bean then provided some feedback on the themes which were raised throughout the day, and highlighted some cross-cutting themes including the issue of handling rapidly shifting boundaries, which cropped up in most of the areas under discussion. Jonathan Athow, director-general for economic statistics at the Office for National Statistics, provided an overview of how the ONS is already taking forward some of the work, including through a new ONS Economics Centre of Excellence and Data Science Campus. Professor Andrew Chesher highlighted the need for economists to engage more with some of the measurement issues identified in the review, and Mike Hughes, who represented the RSS as chair of its National Statistics Advisory Group, set out a challenge for statisticians to get better at keeping up with new developments in emerging fields such as data science. The panel discussion was then followed by a lively Q&A session with the audience.
The full video of the conference is embedded below. If you would like to just watch specific sessions of the conference, such as the panel discussions, see our YouTube playlist.