Assessment report: Northern Ireland Broad Economy Sales and Exports Statistics

16 December 2021
Last updated:
21 December 2021

Meeting users' needs

BESES have been essential in supplying detailed data on cross-border trade between both NI and GB and between NI and Republic of Ireland. Since the EU Referendum in 2016 and in the run up to exiting the EU, there has been a high demand by analysts and policy officials in both UK government and in NI government departments to understand the trading characteristics of NI and GB. BESES have been the key source for meeting this demand.

NISRA statisticians were praised by colleagues in the Department for the Economy and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for the work they undertook and support they gave to inform important policy decisions and papers around the EU withdrawal. The work of the Trade and EU Exit team was acknowledged when it was nominated for the NI Civil Service (NICS) collaboration award (a category in the annual NICS-wide awards) in 2019.

We found NISRA’s user engagement wide-ranging and positive, and that NISRA puts users at the heart of developing BESES. Users told us they have frequent check-in emails and take part in annual customer satisfaction surveys. NISRA runs Economy and Labour Market Statistics (ELMS) users’ meetings which allow users to give feedback on their needs and perceptions of ELMS surveys and publications. NISRA also runs an annual NISRA-wide customer satisfaction survey which incorporates ELMS.

In addition to the headline figures published in the BESES bulletins on NISRA’s website, NISRA has several additional data access agreements (called Ministerial Directions) in place to provide some users with more-detailed or bespoke analysis of the data. The Statistics of Trade and Employment (Northern Ireland) Order 1988 allows survey data collected from businesses to be shared with another government department (and some other bodies) under a Ministerial Direction, for the purpose of the exercise by that department of its functions. As part of these agreements, NISRA helpfully provides users with two versions of data tables – one where all the data on organisations are readily accessible and available (for internal use and can be shared only with those named on the data sharing agreement) and another version that is disclosure checked with suppressed cells where appropriate for public sharing.

NISRA’s work to inform EU Exit discussions has forged strong working relationships with officials in HMRC and HM Treasury (HMT) – key users of NISRA’s trade statistics. NISRA worked closely with both departments to supply data for important projects on the NI Protocol. NISRA shared evidence with us that showed the BESES statistics team received positive feedback for providing data in a timely manner to analysts.To aid accessibility of the HMRC data, NISRA produced an interactive Trade-in-Goods mapping tool based on annual HMRC data, which allows users to analyse data and export results to Excel. NISRA shared links to this widely, including with the Department for the Economy, Scottish Government, Welsh Government, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and with members of the NI Statistics Advisory Committee and NI businesses invited to a stakeholder outreach event.

In partnership with Department for the Economy, NISRA has been proactive in developing the Database for Trade and Economic Research (DTER) which provides access for Department for the Economy statisticians to all business survey data. The objective of the database is to facilitate quicker ad hoc analysis by users. The database will allow analysts to link data sets and should improve understanding of NI trade statistics. At present the database is still in early development and is restricted to a few select individuals, but NISRA plans to open access more widely and we welcome this move.

NISRA told us that the EU Exit team is currently analysing Eurostat Northern Ireland trade-in-goods data that provide NI-specific trade-in-products data on a monthly basis since January 2021. NISRA has shared tables of this analysis with the Department for Economy for feedback and is developing a dashboard that will be maintained on a monthly basis to make the data accessible to users.

NISRA carried out a user consultation in June 2021, in which respondents said they used BESES for a variety of purposes, including to inform departmental policy discussions/decision, balance of trade analysis (imports vs exports) and to make international comparisons. Other uses stated by respondents included the analysis of NI-GB trade and for incorporation into other statistical publications alongside other data sources such as Supply and Use Tables.

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