What’s in a name?

‘National Statistics’ is the key term representing many of the top tier official statistics in the UK. During our review, we went back to the beginning of National Statistics to understand where the phrase came from and to get to the heart of its meaning (you can read more about this in our history of the designation blog).

We heard from users and producers about their views of the phrase: for some the designation is ambiguous or irrelevant. For others, it stands as a mark of absolute high quality and a shield of protection.

We found several problems with the National Statistics designation.

There is a lack of clarity in, and a degree of mystique about, the designation – there is an unhelpful distinction between National Statistics and other official statistics, and the label “National Statistics” is unclear, not well understood by users and potentially sensitive, particularly in a four-nation context. ‘National’ is ambiguous, whether it refers to geographic coverage or to something of national importance.

There is an artificial boundary – producers do not typically look to achieve a higher level of Code compliance for National Statistics versus other official statistics; instead, they seek to comply with the Code in all outputs.

And our regulatory approach has focused too much on full compliance – our emphasis on full compliance of National Statistics, and the highest standards of trustworthiness, quality and value, has missed the broader compliance by official statistics and goes beyond the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007. Our principal roles in line with the Act are to:

  • Set the statutory Code of Practice for Statistics
  • Assess compliance with the Code of Practice
  • Award the National Statistics designation to official statistics that comply with the Code of Practice
  • Report any concerns on the quality, good practice and comprehensiveness of official statistics

Our experience through the pandemic clearly showed that the National Statistics designation no longer serves its purpose well – the essential data needed to inform decision making were not National Statistics, and many of the statistics were not published as official statistics. But rapid statistics were produced across UK statistics bodies to meet the new demands for information and in turn a new regulatory review approach was developed to give reassurance about the standards being applied. The practice and decisions made were in line with the Code of Practice – there was no suspension of the standards. This experience suggests that the Code remained relevant but that the way official and National Statistics were viewed was out of step with current needs.

Despite these issues, we are certain that designation inherently has an important role to play in helping both users and producers, as well as us as the regulator. So, what does designation represent?

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