Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
Restructure body tasked with protecting statistics for public good, urges Committee
In a report on the governance of official statistics, PACAC argues that the dual role of the UK Statistics Authority in both producing and regulating official statistics has compromised its ability to ensure statistics serve the public good and recommends it is split into two separate bodies.
- Read the summary
- Read the conclusions and recommendations
- Read the full report: Governance of Statistics
In a critical report, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) recommends that UKSA should be more independent of Government, and should do more to hold the statistical system to account to ensure it serves the public good. The Committee stresses that UKSA’s handling of miscalculated RPI (retail prices index) figures shows governance failings and is indicative of its failure to provide and protect statistics and ensure the public can have confidence in official measures of inflation.
The report also recommends that, with public concern about fake news growing, the UK Statistics Authority needs to be fundamentally restructured to ensure official statistics serve the public good. The report outlines that the ‘misconceived’ decision to give the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) the dual role of both national provider and regulator of official statistics has created a conflict, and that it should now be split into a separate regulatory body and a dedicated provider of official statistics.
The Committee stresses that governance changes must be made quickly and UKSA’s upcoming five year strategy is the chance to fundamentally change its approach to become proactive and forward thinking.
The Committee also recommends that UKSA:
- Develop a more comprehensive understanding of how the public engages with statistics including who uses statistics, what statistics they need, and how statistics are used;
- Review the public accessibility and availability of official statistics;
- Demonstrate more proactive, quicker responses to concerns about the accuracy and misuse of statistics and should more clearly demonstrate its independence from key stakeholders, when it has significant disagreements with producers of statistics;
- Consider splitting the role of the currently vacant role of National Statistician so that suitable candidates can be found quickly;
- Request data sets so that it can take a lead in using the potential of data to transform government, at the same time and demonstrate how the public will be protected from misuse of data;
- Take a stronger leading role across technology, data science, data ethics and influencing improved sharing of data.
Commenting on the report, Chair of the Committee Sir Bernard Jenkin MP yesterday said:
“UKSA’S conflicting dual role has led to governance issues within the organisation affecting its ability to serve the public good and failing in its duty properly to regulate national statistics. This has been exemplified by UKSA’s poor handling of RPI since 2010, which it continues to fail to account for.
In a time of growing concern about disinformation, the public needs access to trustworthy national statistics. PACAC is calling for a fundamental restructure of UKSA into two separate bodies; one dedicated to providing robust, useful and freely accessible stats and an official statistics regulator with the capacity to monitor and challenge all official statistics.
Our report is clear that if parliamentary time cannot be found to pass the necessary legislation for restructuring soon, then UKSA must take other steps to separate its two roles as soon as possible. UKSA must not miss the opportunity to build changes into its new five year strategy.”
Independence and accountability
The report argues that UKSA has not made itself sufficiently independent of the Government, particularly the Treasury, and is therefore shying away from its responsibility to be accountable to Parliament and the public. For almost a decade now there has been concern about the discrepancy between UKSA’s calculation of RPI and CPI (consumer prices index), but UKSA has refused to account for its RPI figure.
As a result of overestimated RPI, commuters face higher rail fares and students are dealt higher student loan interest rates. In January 2019 the Economic Affairs Committee of the House of Lords reported that by failing to fix RPI, UKSA risks breaching its statutory duties. PACAC concludes that through its continued mishandling of RPI UKSA has allowed what was “originally a simple mistake in price collection of inflation data to snowball into a major unresolved issue for a decade.”
The report recommends that UKSA demonstrate more proactive, quicker responses to concerns about the accuracy and misuse of statistics and should more clearly demonstrate its independence from key stakeholders, when it has significant disagreements with producers of statistics.
The Committee also expresses concern about UKSA’s openness to parliamentary and public scrutiny. The report finds that UKSA is slow to respond to, or take action on, correspondence and reports from parliamentary committees. PACAC therefore urges UKSA to attend an annual hearing with the Committee to improve its accountability to parliament and make its governance more transparent so it can be scrutinised by the public.
Dividing the role of UK Statistics Authority
The UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) was created in 2008 as a statutory body to promote and safeguard the production and publication of official statistics that serve the public good. UKSA was given the dual function of being both the main provider of national statistics (through the Office for National Statistics) and the sole regulator of UK statistics. In its report, PACAC found that this dual role has led to a conflict and as a result UKSA is performing neither role adequately.
The report recommends that the Government introduce legislation to divide UKSA into two separate bodies – one for production and one for regulation. However, the Committee recognises that bringing forward legislation may not be immediately possible and so recommends a series of steps UKSA can take to separate its responsibilities including physically dividing the offices of staff responsible for regulation and production of statistics.
Availability and usefulness of statistics
UKSA's statutory objective commits it to "informing the public about social and economic matters" and "assisting in the development and evaluation of public policy”, however the report finds that UKSA’s governance of statistics does not always serve the public good. UKSA does not have a complete understanding of who uses statistics, what for, and what statistics are in demand. The report concludes that “with only a modest sense of how the public uses data and no evidence of the unmet needs, UKSA is unable to work towards delivering public good as required under the legislation.”
The Committee recommends that UKSA should lead cross-government research to build an evidence base of how statistics are used in practice, taking into account the full breadth of stakeholders (not just users) and to investigate where data gaps persist.
Challenging disinformation and data concerns
The report outlines that technology and innovation can make statistics more robust and also more accessible to decision makers and the public. However, the Committee heard that Government progress to capitalise on data innovations has been slow and there remains significant work to do. There is also work to do on reassuring citizens about the use of their data, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
The report recommends that UKSA should request data sets so that it can take a lead in using the potential of data to transform government, at the same time demonstrating how the public will be protected from misuse of data. The Committee also calls on UKSA to take a stronger leading role across technology, data science, data ethics and influencing improved sharing of data.
Latest News from
Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
Tougher actions needed to tackle driving while using a mobile phone13/08/2019 10:10:00
The Government should consider tougher restrictions on driving while using a mobile phone and stricter enforcement of the law to prevent the ‘entirely avoidable’ tragedy of deaths and serious injuries from related crashes on the roads, MPs say.
Funding for science research in universities in jeopardy, warns Lords Committee08/08/2019 11:20:00
The Augar Review did not take a holistic approach to the funding of universities and made no attempt to assess the potential impact of its recommended changes in the funding of higher education on the funding of research.
Parliament’s role in authorising the use of military force should be strengthened, but the Government’s ability to act should not be compromised, says PACAC report06/08/2019 11:20:00
The post-Iraq consensus that Government should seek Parliament’s prior approval for military action is today strengthened by a report from the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC).
Government “complacent” about cost transparency failings in pensions industry05/08/2019 12:43:00
In its latest major report on the functioning of the UK pensions industry, published today, Monday 5 August 2019, the Work and Pensions Committee says it is “unconvinced” that the industry will rise to the challenge of providing clear, transparent information to pension schemes about the costs and charges of investments.
Post-Brexit agricultural funding must meet the needs of Scottish farming01/08/2019 11:25:00
In its final report on the future of Scottish agriculture, the Scottish Affairs Committee argues that Brexit presents an opportunity to address failings in the agriculture funding formula, which has led to Scottish farms and crofts receiving low levels of funding.
Fundamental shift needed for enforcing the Equality Act31/07/2019 10:05:00
The Women and Equalities Committee yesterday published a report on Enforcing the Equality Act: the law and the role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Mainstreaming disability inclusion across DFID’s work is welcome but progress must continue30/07/2019 16:20:00
In a report published today, the International Development Committee has welcomed the Department for International Development’s recent work on mainstreaming disability inclusion but urges continued effort.
Inquiry on UK's financial obligations in the event of ‘no deal’ launched30/07/2019 13:05:00
The EU Financial Affairs Sub-Committee launches an inquiry into the UK's financial obligations to the EU in the event of a 'no deal' in Brexit negotiations.