The ONS will be improving the availability of sub-national economic statistics. Now it's time for Whitehall to open up.
A few months ago the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released a document setting out their response to the UK’s ‘devolution revolution’ and the resultant demand for better data and analysis of sub-national economies. It was also in part a response to the recent Bean review’s recommendations about the need to improve sub-national economic statistics.
Centre for Cities has been a long-term advocate for better data at the city level. As part of our work on these issues we organised a workshop in partnership with the UKSA to bring together data users and producers to explore how the ‘improving sub-national data’ agenda could be progressed. The workshop highlighted several issues that currently inhibit the ability of city analysts and policy-makers to understand their places. These included: no consistent approach to maintaining a stable underlying geography in terms of local and medium super output areas; delays in releasing sub-national versions of national data (e.g. GVA); and lack of data relating to important elements of the economy (e.g. services, land-use and value; local labour markets). A more detailed note of the workshop is available here.
The ONS document sets out how they are already addressing many of these issues, which is great. These include:
In addition the document also commits the ONS to undertake further data development work over the next few years including:
To maximise the impact of the ONS’ work programme two additional issues also have to be addressed. The first is the need to open up existing government data. The government collects a vast amount of data, both survey and administrative data, but much of it isn’t made available to external audiences. This data is a hugely valuable asset, and yet is underused. The best example of this is the data held by HMRC through its PAYE records, which could give much more accurate and timely information on wages by sector and occupation, commuting patterns, income distributions and labour turnover. Crucially, this data could be supplied on a near population-sized sample, unlike the small and often unreliable samples other ONS surveys use for local authority data, so vastly increasing its accuracy. Combined with a move to stable geographies and providing that concerns over disclosure could be addressed (e.g. through the use of secure environments) greater availability of this data would allow significant improvements in our measurement of city economies.
The second issue that needs addressing is the lack of awareness and capacity among some of the city analysis and policy community of what data are already available and how to use it. While improving data availability and quality is crucial, without a corresponding improvement in the capacity of the policy community to use this data its full impact will be limited beyond a small group of ‘super-users’.
As part of our on-going commitment to better understand and improve city economies, we are working with the ONS to organise an event in the Autumn to bring together data producers and data users (analysts and policy-makers). If you want to get involved in the event please get in touch.
As more and more decisions around economic development, infrastructure, skills, health and welfare are made at the city-region level, greater understanding of the particular economic, social, and cultural circumstances of individual and groups of cities is needed. To improve the quality of policy-making and outcomes, accurate and timely data at the appropriate spatial level will become ever more important. If such data are not available, policy design and evaluation at the city-region level will fail to improve the prosperity that devolution offers.
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