Assessment Report: UK Business Demography Statistics

In 2020, we fully assessed ONS Business Demography statistics, reviewing their compliance against each of the pillars in the Code of Practice for Statistics.

Key Findings

Our view is that ONS should aim for its business demography statistics to be considered key economic indicators. But they are not regarded as such at the moment, because they are not as good or as useful as they should be.

The ONS’s business register – the Inter-Departmental Business Register (IDBR) – holds a wealth of data on the UK’s business population. Some of these are used to produce business demography statistics. The remainder of which, however, remains a largely untapped resource.

In response to the COVID pandemic, ONS in conjunction with Companies House, introduced a weekly indicator of business births and deaths. ONS has also published the first of a quarterly series of experimental business demography statistics, which draw on data from Companies House and the Insolvency Service. These significant innovations present a platform for further development of business demography statistics.

Some required improvements to the statistics rely on significant investment. It is clear that the redirection of funding away from the Statistical Business Register project has hindered ONS’s ambitions to enhance the contribution that the business register makes to economic statistics. Work to develop ONS’s business register should urgently be re-introduced to ensure that users’ needs for business population statistics are met.


In the short term (by the time the next annual statistics are published in November 2020) in order to retain the National Statistics status for these statistics, ONS:

  • must have demonstrated progress in understanding the access difficulties users are experiencing when using and linking IDBR data with data
  • should publish its plans for publishing more timely business demography statistics, and its plans for developing the recently introduced quarterly experimental statistics
  • should publish a narrative covering what ONS already knows about the range of key data quality issues, building on the supporting quality information provided with the new quarterly experimental statistics
  • should publish its plans to restart and resource work to develop its business register

In the longer term, ONS should publish a plan which includes specific actions, deliverables and a timetable by the end of January 2021, that explains how it will address the improvements identified in the report, including plans for reviewing the funding of the Statistical Business Register.

Assessment Report – Purchases Survey Statistics

Understanding what goods and services businesses purchase, and from whom, is essential to building an accurate picture of the economy. ONS uses its Annual Purchases Survey as the basis for estimating the value of goods and services that businesses use as part of their production processes – in the National Accounts called ‘intermediate consumption’.

ONS previously ran a Purchases Inquiry, with the most-recent usable results relating to 2004. The survey was suspended in 2007, but this suspension became permanent. There followed a ten-year period where no data were collected on intermediate consumption patterns, following which ONS introduced the Annual Purchases Survey to collect data from 2015 onwards.

The hiatus meant that ONS was relying on outdated information about purchases at a time when substantial changes are taking place to purchasing patterns and production processes, not least in the light of the global financial crisis in 2008. ONS mitigated the effects of this to some extent by adjusting its modelled estimates of intermediate consumption based on additional data from the Annual Business Survey, HM Treasury and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government. In addition, ONS boosted the resources dedicated to manual balancing using staff members’ specific knowledge and broad economic experience. Estimates of intermediate consumption also fell short of EU best practice of updating the supply-use information at least every five years.

We recognise the significant challenges and costs that ONS faces to collect purchases data, and the significant work that it has done to date. We also recognise ONS’s ambitions to achieve National Statistics status, which means that the statistics meet the highest standards of public value, are high quality and are produced in a way worthy of trust and comply with all aspects of the Code of Practice for Statistics.

This report documents the findings of our assessment, which has focused on key elements of quality and value.


Related Links:

Letter – Ed Humpherson to Jonathan Athow (December 2019)

Assessment of 2021 Censuses in the UK – Preliminary findings

The Census is one of the most important sources of official statistics, informing decisions about almost every aspect of life within the UK. It is of fundamental importance in allocating billions of pounds to local areas by the UK government and devolved administrations, as well as grants to voluntary sector organisations. The Census helps every person in the UK get a better understanding of the places in which they live and work.

The real value of the Censuses will be realised on the release of Census outputs. Census offices will have to deliver high quality data and statistics in a variety of forms to support the wide range of different uses required. It is essential that the data and statistics from the 2021 Censuses produced by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the National Records of Scotland (NRS) and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) are reliable and provide valuable insights, meeting the rigorous standards of trustworthiness, quality and value outlined in the Code of Practice for Statistics.

Our assessment report identifies a range of preliminary findings from the assessment of 2021 Censuses in the UK, which require action on behalf of Census offices to improve compliance with the Code. These findings build on the existing work being undertaken by Census offices and should provide further direction and focus on pre-existing plans for Census as we move toward Census day in 2021 and beyond.

We expect Census offices to act on these findings as part of enhancing the public value, quality and trustworthiness of the data and statistics from 2021 Censuses in the UK. We encourage Census offices to work collaboratively to address the findings. We expect Census offices to report back to us by May 2020, providing an update on progress.

The UK Statistics Authority will decide whether to confirm the National Statistics designation, based on OSR’s advice, prior to publication of Census outputs in 2022; Census offices’ actions to address these findings will help inform that advice.

We have shared this assessment report with relevant UK Parliamentary committees.


Related Links:

Letter from Ed Humpherson to NRS, NISRA and ONS (October 2019)

Ed Humpherson to David Marshall (NISRA): Assessment of 2021 Censuses in the UK (September 2020)

Ed Humpherson to Iain Bell: Assessment of 2021 Censuses in the UK – ONS Response to Preliminary Findings (September 2020)

Ed Humpherson to Paul Lowe (NRS): Assessment of 2021 Censuses in the UK (September 2020)

Statistics on Avoidable Mortality

An assessment of the trustworthiness, quality and public value of the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) Avoidable Mortality statistics.

Judgement on National Statistics status

Users value ONS’s statistics on Avoidable Mortality, recognise the high standards applied in their production, and consider them to be trustworthy. We judge that these can be designated as National Statistics once ONS have taken the three actions outlined in the report to ensure the statistics meet the highest standards of the Code of Practice for Statistics.

Key findings

ONS first published Avoidable Mortality statistics as experimental statistics in May 2012 following user demand from a range of organisations. From the outset, the definitions applied and analyses conducted have been shaped by input from users, and this continues today.

The statistical team is committed to regularly reviewing the avoidable mortality definition to ensure it keeps up-to-date with advances in treatments and public health interventions.

Currently the team liaises with users of these statistics by various means and has now established a new stakeholder interest group to consult with and involve in decisions more regularly and efficiently. This will help ensure the statistics remain relevant to users and further enhance the transparency of decisions taken.

The statistical team recognises that some users would prefer the headline statistics to be released sooner and for additional analyses to be released alongside the main bulletin. We support the team’s efforts to speed up the production and release of the statistics. Communication of these plans is important and the new stakeholder interest group will help to ensure that users of the statistics are involved in, and more informed about, decisions around release timing.

Based on the detailed published methodology documents and the views of clinical experts, we are confident that sound methods are used to produce these statistics and appropriate steps are taken to arrive at suitable definitions, assure the quality of the underlying data and conduct the analysis.

Independent and highly specialised medical and public health advice is provided by an internationally recognised expert in clinical coding who seeks additional input from other experts where necessary. This advice is critical to ensuring that definition decisions are taken appropriately. ONS should ensure that it works with relevant experts to develop a succession plan to ensure that continuity is maintained if a change of advisor occurs.

ONS has committed to provide more information to reflect the recent expansion of the statistics to include data from Scotland and Northern Ireland, where there are different approaches to assure the quality of death recording.

The statisticians demonstrate strong expertise and sound professional judgement. Improvements to the transparency of some processes and decisions have been made in the course of this assessment; we have no further requirements here.

Related Links:

Confirmation as National Statistics (March 2019)

Ed Humpherson to Iain Bell (November 2018)

Ed Humpherson to Amy Wilson (November 2018)

Compliance check: Transparency and communication of International Passenger Survey methods changes

This report looks at the communications around the International Passenger Survey (IPS) related to methods changes implemented between September 2017 and April 2018. It looks at how changes to the IPS data collection methods were communicated in advance of their introduction, how the Office for National Statistics communicated delays to IPS publications, and how quality concerns were conveyed to enable appropriate use of IPS data collected during the transition period.

Related Links

Ed Humpherson to Iain Bell (October 2018)

Ed Humpherson to Guy Goodwin (October 2018)

Iain Bell to Ed Humpherson (June 2018)

Guy Goodwin to Ed Humpherson (June 2018)

Ed Humpherson to Guy Goodwin (June 2018)