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