Damned lies and statistics? Are Britain’s official statistics out of date? And can we trust them?

Former Bank of England deputy launches review into ONS

The methods used by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) were developed in the era of the great depression, and are unsuitable for the digital age, the former Bank of England deputy governor Sir Charlie Bean has said.

Bean’s criticism of the UK’s national statistics service comes as he launches an independent review of Britain’s economic statistics – a move spearheaded by Chancellor George Osborne.

The review follows mistakes made by the ONS in recent months, including UK trade data errors, produced by 11 inexperienced staff in May; the following month, the service was again making headlines for the wrong reasons after an error in inflation measurements led to an upward revision of figures in the national income, from 2.4% to 2.9%.

Elsewhere there are concerns over its measurements of the Scottish economy, business investment stats, and the quality of its website.

According to the FT, people close to the Treasury believe Osborne could use the review to increase the ONS’s budget, and bring more of its staff back to an office in London.

The ONS was moved to Newport in South Wales in 2006. This was a controversial move and led to several senior workers’ departure.

Speaking to the FT ahead of the review announcement, Bean highlighted several problems the ONS is facing.

“As an economy develops, the traditional ways of thinking about it cease to be so relevant,” he said. The current system “was developed in the aftermath of the Great Depression”, he said, adding that Britain was “probably the world leader in statistics”, but was not “quite the leader of the pack now”.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Ian Middleton

    I've been critical of the ONS for years. Not least because I've been on the receiving end of their antiquated data gathering methods.

    Oddly enough I wrote a piece about them 2 years ago using virtually the same headline!


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