Governance of the statistical system
The Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 provides the legal basis for the UK statistical system and established the UK Statistics Authority (the Authority)
The Authority reports directly to legislatures across the UK rather than having direction set by a specific minister. It has a selection of committees to support its statutory functions
The Authority Strategy 2020-2025 ‘statistics for the public good’ sets out principles for the system
Government Statistical Service (GSS) governance includes committees and groups, and although there is professional accountability to the National Statistician, different departments also have their own governance arrangements
The Concordat on Statistics sets out the framework for cooperation between the UK Government and devolved administrations
Different parts of the UK have their own governance arrangements and reporting structures, with Chief Statisticians in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales holding an important role
The Authority governance
The UK statistical system is governed by the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 (the 2007 Act) and subsequent secondary legislation. The 2007 Act established a Statistics Board which is known in practice as the UK Statistics Authority (the Authority). The Authority has the statutory objective of ‘promoting and safeguarding the production and publication of official statistics that serve the public good’.
The 2007 Act sets out what official statistics are and who can produce them, as well as specific responsibilities the Authority has. For example, in addition to statistics production, this includes monitoring and reporting of official statistics, the ability to lay a report before parliament about any matter relating to the exercise of its functions and responsibilities for developing, maintaining, and promoting the use of definitions, methodologies, classifications and standards for official statistics.
The Authority operates at arm’s length from government as a non-ministerial department and reports directly to the UK Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru (the Welsh Parliament), and the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The Authority Board has oversight of the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) and the Government Statistical Service (GSS), and is overseen by the Chair. Within the Authority, ONS is led by the National Statistician, and OSR by the Director General for Regulation. Both of these senior leaders are part of and accountable to the Authority Board.
Membership of the Authority Board includes executive members (representing ONS and OSR) as well as non-executive members, who are in the majority.
The Authority Board has committees to support its statutory functions and get advice on matters within the Authority’s remit. These committees may include persons who are neither members of the Authority nor its employees.
These committees are:
- Audit and Risk Assurance Committee
- Regulation Committee(formerly Assessment Committee)
- Remuneration Committee
- Executive Committee (ExCo), which focuses on business delivery within ONS
- National Statistics Executive Group (NSEG) which has multiple sub-committees and forms part of GSS governance
The National Statistician also has a set of advisory committees and panels to provide advice on specific topics, as well as the statutory Research Accreditation Panel.
The Authority’s current five-year strategy for the UK statistical system Statistics for the Public Good (2020-2025) lays out four core principles which will underpin the work of the statistical system over the course of the strategy:
- Radical in taking opportunities to innovate and collaborate, using data for the public good
- Ambitious in setting out to answer the critical research questions the public needs answers to, and informing the decisions that citizens, businesses and civil society take
- Inclusive in our approach to workforce, talent management, and the design of data, statistics and analysis
- Sustainable in delivering a unique service in a way which delivers value for money through partnership and collaboration
NSEG focusses on system-wide statistical and analytical matters, and provides direction and oversight in the governance of the GSS. Sub-committees of NSEG have a GSS-wide remit of varying degrees (such as the GSS International Committee).
- GSS Heads of Profession Group
- GSS Inter–Administration Committee (explored further under the Concordat)
- GSS People Committee
Although Heads of Profession across the GSS are accountable to the National Statistician, members of the GSS and Heads of Profession are employed by individual government departments, so are accountable thorough departmental governance structures as well as through GSS governance.
The Authority webpage about pre-release access describes how under the 2007 Act, Cabinet Office Ministers and Ministers in the Devolved Administrations are responsible for determining the principles and rules governing pre-release access to official statistics in their final form before publication. This is done through secondary legislation in respective parliaments, which is set out in a series of Pre-Release Access to Official Statistics Orders:
- Pre-release Access to Official Statistics Order 2008 sets out the rules and principles relating to the granting of pre-release access to official statistics produced by the UK Government – came into force on 1 December 2008.
- Pre-release Access to Official Statistics (Scotland) Order 2008 sets out the equivalent for official statistics which are wholly Scottish devolved statistics – came into force on 1 December 2008.
- Pre-release Access to Official Statistics Order (Northern Ireland) 2009 sets out the equivalent for official statistics which are wholly Northern Ireland devolved statistics – came into force on 1 April 2009.
- Pre-release Access to Official Statistics (Wales) Order 2009 sets out the equivalent for official statistics which are wholly Welsh devolved statistics – came into force on 21 October 2009.
The Concordat on Statistics
The Concordat on Statistics (the Concordat) sets out the agreed framework for co-operation between the UK Government and devolved administrations in relation to the production of statistics, statistical standards and the statistics profession. The most recent Concordat was published in October 2021. Areas of joint working set out in the Concordat are:
- Statistical coherence
- International standards and obligations
- Data sharing
- Consultation and wider collaboration
- Professional standards and statistical staff
The implementation of the Concordat is overseen by the Inter-Administration Committee (IAC) which promotes coherence across the administrations of the UK and resolves inter-administration issues at a strategic level. The IAC is chaired by the National Statistician and membership includes the Chief Statisticians for Wales and Scotland, the Chief Statistician and Registrar General of Northern Ireland, the Registrar General for Scotland, and the deputy National Statistician for Health, Population and Methods.
In Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA), an executive agency within the Department of Finance (Northern Ireland), is the principal source of official statistics and social research. All government statisticians in Northern Ireland work for NISRA but can be based in other Northern Ireland departments or arm’s length bodies. The NISRA Chief Executive is also the Chief Statistician for Northern Ireland.
The majority of Northern Ireland Official Statistics are published by NISRA statisticians who are positioned in Government departments or in arm’s length bodies. However, some official statistics are produced by other official statistics producers which do not have NISRA staff. The NISRA website lists the ten official statistics producers without NISRA branches.
All nine Ministerial Departments in Northern Ireland have a Senior Statistician, as well as one Non-Ministerial Department and two arm’s length bodies. Other arm’s length bodies which are smaller or don’t have any NISRA staff have Lead Officials. All Senior Statisticians and Lead Officials in Northern Ireland have professional accountability to the Northern Ireland Chief Statistician.
In Scotland, official statistics consist mainly of regular and planned statistics and analysis produced by statistics units in the Scottish Government, National Records of Scotland (NRS) and Public Health Scotland, as well as non-crown bodies set out in secondary legislation (detailed in the annex).
The Chief Statistician in the Scottish Government has overall responsibility for the implementation and coordination of official statistics standards in the Scottish Administration. The Scottish Administration is defined as the Executive Agencies and the Non-Ministerial Departments, additionally the Chief Statistician has responsibility for arm’s length public body producers which have been named by Order as producers of official statistics. Most arm’s length bodies have a Scottish Government contact.
Heads of Profession, or lead analysts, are appointed for all other Scottish producers of official statistics (including Public Health Scotland and National Records of Scotland). The Chief Statistician acts as Head of Profession for all Scottish Government directorates and executive agencies.
National Records of Scotland is a Non-Ministerial Department of the Scottish Government. The chief executive fulfils the role of the Registrar General for Scotland and Keeper of the Records of Scotland. The Registrar General is responsible for planning and running the census in Scotland.
In Wales, most official statistics are produced by the Welsh Government. A small number are also produced by other crown organisations and non-crown bodies set out in secondary legislation (detailed in the annex).
The Chief Statistician in Wales is responsible for the leadership of the statistical system in Wales, including setting and maintaining professional statistical standards. This covers both crown and non-crown producers of official statistics. The Chief Statistician also acts as Head of Profession for Welsh Government and other official statistics producers in Wales. Lead Officials from official statistics producers meet twice a year to discuss professional matters.Back to top