Alongside the commitment to increase spending on research and development, the RSS has welcomed a number of announcements made in this week’s Autumn Budget relating to maths education, price rise measures and data ethics.
Chancellor Phillip Hammond set out details of a £600 incentive for each student at schools in England who decides to take up A level Maths, Further Maths or Core Maths, in response to the Smith Review.
The RSS has long campaigned for a boost in support for mathematical study. ‘This spending decision should help to upskill the nation, narrow the gap with our economic competitors and address some of the skills shortages facing our data-driven industries,’ comments RSS head of education and statistical literacy, Scott Keir.
He adds: ‘For these very reasons, we are seeking reassurance that A-level Statistics will be included in the scope of this very welcome initiative, to ensure that young people can choose the most appropriate mathematical pathway from age 16 to 18.’
The RSS also commends the decision that business rate increases will be linked to the Consumer Prices Index (CPI), rather than the Retail Prices Index (RPI), from April 2018 onwards - two years earlier than originally planned. The RPI is technically flawed and regarded as unsuitable for uprating purposes by both the Office for National Statistics and the UK Statistics Authority.
We advocate scrapping the use of RPI in other forms of uprating, for example, in setting rail fares, Air Passenger Duty and the interest on student loans, given that CPI (which is generally lower) is used to uprate people's pensions and benefits. We recently wrote to the Chancellor (PDF) to press him on this issue and look forward to the day when the government uprates people’s incomes and outgoings on a consistent and credible basis.
Another of our campaigns, highlighting the need for scrutiny around the ethics of using data, was given due consideration in the Budget with the announcement of a new ‘Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation’. ‘We’re pleased to see the Government taking this seriously,’ says Hetan Shah, RSS executive director. ‘It is important however, that there is clear blue water between the functions of this new body and The Information Commissioner’s Office and the Nuffield Foundation’s Convention on Data Ethics. The best role for this body is to look at where existing regulation needs strengthening, rather than to do the regulation itself.’
Finally, we are interested to hear that the UK is to establish a Geospatial Data Commission, with a view to using public sector location data to support economic growth. The RSS has been calling for this for a number of years, and state in our Data Manifesto (PDF; no. 2 on page 4): ‘We look to the government to open up addressing and geospatial data as the core reference data upon which society depends, and also act as a catalyst to release economic value from other open datasets.’