Requirements and next steps
We have identified several ways the ABS needs to be improved to meet users’ needs and to comply with the highest standards of the Code.
Requirement 1 ONS needs to urgently prioritise investment in the development of its structural economic statistics, to ensure that the public good is served by them, and in particular to ensure that:
- The granularity and timeliness of the statistics are improved, and
- The decline in the quality of official economic and business data highlighted in the Bean Review of economic statistics does not continue and is reversed.
Requirement 2 ONS should continue, and develop, its current endeavours to establish what existing data – from administrative, private sector or other sources – could be used as the basis for its annual business statistics. These data have the opportunity to provide much more detail, more quickly and cheaply, with lower respondent burden than running a full survey. ONS should then determine what form of supplementary survey needs to be run to collect those data that are not already available from elsewhere (for example sub-national information), and develop ways to harness existing business data (for example use of accountancy software) or collect data more efficiently (for example through electronic questionnaires).
Requirement 3 ONS must develop its understanding of the potential uses and value of ABS data, by engaging better with users both inside and outside of government, to ensure that as far as possible its annual business statistics are providing public value. ONS needs to understand what users require from ABS data and demonstrate how it is going to use feedback to inform a development plan for its structural economic statistics. ONS should reflect on the Government Statistical Service’s User Engagement Strategy to assist in selecting the most appropriate methods for engaging with users.
Requirement 4 ONS should provide clearer indications of the fitness for purpose of the ABS statistics and their strengths and limitations with respect to various potential uses. As part of this, ONS needs to understand and communicate to users the influence of IDBR data quality issues on ABS estimates, to ensure that users are well placed to understand the capability and useability of ABS estimates.
Requirement 5 ONS should work more urgently with the UK Data Service to improve the access of researchers to ABS microdata. Improving access to this was also a Requirement (1b) of OSR’s October 2020 Business Demography Assessment Report.
In addressing these requirements, ONS should seek to apply the same innovative and agile approaches it demonstrated in meeting the demand for short-term business data during the pandemic.
We expect ONS to publish a plan by the end of October 2021, which includes specific actions, deliverables and a timetable that explains how it will address the improvements identified in this report. The UK Statistics Authority will take advice from OSR based on ONS’s progress against this plan to decide whether continued use of the National Statistics designation is merited.Back to top