Royal Statistical Society considers cuts to statistics

At its conference earlier in September, the UK’s Royal Statistical Society (RSS) considered whether the government cutbacks had undermined the UK evidence base. The three presentations, two from the UK Statistics Authority and one from Radical Statistics, are summarised below. We will post a blog when a full written version of the Radical Statistics presentation is available.

RICHARD ALLDRITT, UK STATISTICS AUTHORITY kicked off the session, noting that the budgets for statistical work across government vary and are set almost completely independently of each other, restricting the scope for co-ordination in spite of other virtues. It is not necessarily wrong to reduce or reorganise statistical production, and to assess change it is necessary to have a means of assessment, as the UKSA has via its Statistical Expenditure Report series. Maximising value needs to become a conscious focus of statistical work in government.  The case must be made convincingly that expenditure on statistics is not only good value, but better value than alternative uses of that money.

JIL MATHESON, NATIONAL STATISTICIAN focused on the statistical profession within government. The number of Official Statistics had decreased from 1,085 in 2010 to 932 in 2012. Prescription cost analyses from the Health and Social Care Information Centre had ended for example. Statistical budgets were not easy to measure as statistical work was variously described in each Department as research or under policy headings. The Office for National Statistics budget has been reduced by 17% from £161m to £136m during the five years to 2015. However, demand was still strong for statisticians, and permission had been gained to recruit again. Economists and Social Researchers have also grown in number recently. The reduced budget had focused attention on the right question: ‘Are we doing the right things with the budget we have?’

LUDI SIMPSON, speaking for the RADICAL STATISTICS GROUP, gave evidence that analysis has suffered in particular, making statistics of less value and giving greater space for misinterpretation. Compendia and ONS publications had ceased, and health analysis removed from ONS priorities. The UKSA Committee on Official Statistics had commented that they didn’t know enough to assess changes in statistics and had made no comment yet on cessation of statistics. The cuts were greater in Local Government where many senior staff had left. Strategic planning responsibilities have been transferred to District Councils without research support, from Regional Offices and Regional Development Bodies which have been abolished. The further introduction of commerce to public service has resulted in measuring demand rather than need. A full report will be circulated soon to the Stats User Net for comment.