The Office for National Statistics (ONS), in determining how public spending should be classified for statistical purposes, can have wide impacts on key economic statistics as well as consequential impacts on the resourcing of government-sponsored projects over many years. It is essential that there is transparent independence around the decision-making process and good communication of the reasons underpinning those decisions. Increasing demands are being made on the classifications decision-makers, at the same time as questions are being asked about the Post-Brexit classification arrangements and how independence will be maintained. This vital area of statistical work, coordinated and managed by ONS, has not been reviewed in terms of meeting Code of Practice for Statistics principles, particularly those relating to its resourcing and transparency.

What we plan to do

We will examine the processes and governance of classification decision-making around what is inside and outside of the public sector for the purposes of public sector finances. We will focus on the value classifications advice from ONS adds to decision-making about funding public projects, the roles of the various committees, how classification work plans are decided and who they’re decided by. We will also examine the robustness of the governance structures in place that facilitate the smooth implementation of new and innovative funding models. These elements are essential for safeguarding independence in the classification process and as well as ensuring inter-generational commitments are made explicit for the purposes of holding decision-makers to account.

How we will do it

Stage 1. Background Research

We will review the guidance currently published online which relates to the classification process. We will review selected historic classification cases to better understand how the process works, particularly when applied to high profile or controversial classification decisions. We will review media coverage of decisions more comprehensively (in part to identify stakeholders).

Stage 2. Gather primary evidence

(a) from talking to decision-makers inside the classifications process

We will meet with people closely involved in classifications decisions, for example those who sit on key committees and statisticians in the Economic Statistics Classifications Team at ONS. Positive engagement with these internal experts will help to inform us and allow us to be aware of any changes or updates to the process. It will also give us the opportunity to ask any questions we may have at this stage.

(b) from talking to external stakeholders

Talking to decision-makers inside the classifications process should give us a comprehensive understanding of the current classifications approach. Once this is achieved we can begin meeting with external stakeholders; primarily academics, journalists and members of departments and devolved administrations. These meetings will be particularly important as they’ll give us various outside perspectives regarding the classifications process. We also plan to meet with EUROSTAT officials, this will allow us to gain a greater understanding of the level of involvement EUROSTAT has in in the classification process and how the UK classification process compares internationally.

Stage 3. Collate and review findings

We will analyse and review our findings, checking for consistency with Code of Practice for Statistics principles around independence, sufficient resourcing and transparency. We will determine whether to make any recommendations to ONS around

  • advice and decisions arising from the classifications process and how lessons are learned from decisions that cause controversy
  • how stakeholders are made aware of and react to the processes, advice and decisions
  • classifications approach post-Brexit.

Stage 4. Dissemination

We might host a meeting to discuss and help refine our emerging findings or put them into a report for publication. Any wider follow up activities would be determined on the basis of what we found.

What we want to happen as a result?

All aspects of the classifications process will be code compliant, ensuring policy makers, the wider statistical community and the general public can be fully confident in its transparency, independence and governance.

Timings to be announced

If you are interested in contributing to our work or would like to receive an alert as more information becomes available, please get in touch.

Contact for more information: email Guy Manning or telephone 020 7592 7800