Better data access will improve economic statistics, says Bean

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The Royal Statistical Society has welcomed the recommendation by an independent review led by Professor Sir Charles Bean to open up access to publicly held data for the production of official statistics on the economy.

The interim review recommendations, released today (2 December 2015), called for ONS to make the most of the vast amounts of data collected by the public sector. While the government has made some progress in opening up this data, it is still not shared with ONS as fully as it could be.

The report says that using government administrative data, as well as potential new sources from the private sector, could help improve many economic statistics. However, new legislation is required to open up all publicly-held microdata to ONS, including appropriate ethical safeguards are in place and privacy is protected.

‘It’s nonsensical that different bits of the government don’t speak to each other, so that businesses and households have to provide the same information twice,’ Professor Sir Charlie Bean commented. ‘Unlocking the data hoard already held by the public sector will not only save businesses money but also produce more timely and accurate statistics.’

The report also recommends that ONS invest in technology and staff, including data scientists, so it is able to be on the lookout for new data sources and techniques, and be in a position to learn from businesses and statisticians everywhere.

These recommendations are welcomed by the RSS, which argued for both of these cases in its own response to the review (PDF). ‘Sir Charlie Bean has produced an excellent interim report which contains much that the RSS welcomes and supports,’ says Mike Hughes, who chairs the RSS National Statistics Advisory Group. 'In particular, the recommendation for new legislation to overcome existing barriers to data sharing is an essential requirement for the improvement of official statistics that the RSS has already proposed in its Data Manifesto.

'The RSS also strongly endorses the recommendation to increase staff resources to improve economic statistics,' Hughes adds.

Sir Andrew Dilnot, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, also welcomed the interim report, saying it set out a ‘bold vision for the future of economic statistics’.

The final report is due to be published in the spring of 2016.

StatsLife published a report on an open meeting we held recently with Professor Sir Charles Bean regarding his review.


UK Statistics Authority Office for National Statistics (ONS) Andrew Dilnot Sir Charles Bean

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