Sir Robert Chote, the newly appointed Chair of the UK Statistics Authority reflects on our State of the Statistical System 2021/22 report, and why he wanted to take on the role of Chair.
It was good fortune, rather than planning on my part, that within weeks of taking on the role of Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, the OSR should publish its annual assessment of The State of the Statistical System. This is an invaluable and, for me, very informative report that strikes exactly the balance that the regulator of the statistical system should aim for: celebrating where things are going well, while identifying areas for improvement and opportunities to be seized.
I feel particularly lucky to take on this role having been a grateful consumer of the work of the UK statistical system for more than 30 years. My first engagement with it was turning up at morning press briefings on retail sales, producer prices and the like in the 1990s, as a journalist at the Independent and then the Financial Times. I have continued to rely on official statistics throughout my career: advising senior management at the International Monetary Fund; looking at social and economic policy at the Institute for Fiscal Studies; forecasting the UK economy and public finances at the Office for Budget Responsibility; and, most recently and in parallel with my role at the Authority, trying to bring transparency to the finances of Northern Ireland as chair of its new fiscal watchdog.
All this experience reinforced my conviction that comprehensive, timely, high-quality data contribute powerfully to public understanding of the world around us and to effective policy-making. As Chair of the Authority, I now have the chance to give back and to champion producers and consumers of official statistics. It is an honour to be taking over this role, particularly at time when public awareness of and trust in official statistics is demonstrably so high.
The OSR report reflects what I have heard from many stakeholders in the run up to and since my appointment – that the system has performed remarkably strongly through the pandemic, bringing innovation to production and communication of its core outputs despite considerable logistical challenges; and showing nimbleness, imagination and responsiveness in generating new products and adapting existing ones to reflect the urgent need for insights into major policy challenges.
The report makes clear that there is an opportunity to build on that momentum as well as addressing the technological and ethical issues that arise from new activity. Continued success depends on intelligent transparency around statistics and data, and the workforce being sufficiently resourced and skilled. If you are taking more data from different sources and putting it together to best effect, there are technological, human resource and ethical issues to be addressed.
I was not surprised to see the report highlight the continued need to develop a culture of enthusiastic data sharing across government, to the benefit not just of policymakers but also researchers and the public. And I was pleased to see an emphasis on transparency, accessibility and the acknowledgement of uncertainty, all of which were high on my agenda at the IFS and OBR.
Building on statistical system’s strengths and successes, and tackling its weaknesses, is essential if it is to serve the public good effectively, as the Authority and I am determined to ensure it should. The OSR’s championing of trustworthiness, quality and value through reports like this and its other work is a key part of that effort and I warmly support and encourage it in continuing to do so.