Office for National Statistics

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The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is the government executive agency charged with the collection and publication of statistics related to the economy, population and society of the United Kingdom at national and local levels. For historical reasons, it incorporates the General Register Office so is also responsible for the registration of births, deaths and marriages in England and Wales.

The ONS was formed on 1 April 1996 by the merger of the Central Statistical Office (CSO), the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys (OPCS), and the statistical divisions of the (now defunct) Department of Employment.


[edit] Office Locations

Main London building, Drummond Gate

The ONS has a head office in Pimlico, London with other offices in the city of Newport, Titchfield in Hampshire and Southport. The London office is located at 1 Drummond Gate. Two adjoining buildings are no longer occupied by ONS. Following the Lyons Review on public sector relocation, the Newport office will become the head office and the London office is being substantially reduced.

Additionally, there is the Family Records Centre in Islington, London where censuses over 100 years old, electoral registers and indexes to the registers of births, deaths and marriages in England and Wales may be consulted, and copies of census entries and certificates can be purchased.

[edit] Heads of the Office: National Statistician

Directors are de facto Permanent Secretaries but do not use that title. As the ONS incorporates the OPCS, the Director is also the Registrar General for England and Wales. In addition, he or she is ex officio the Head of the Government Statistical Service. The first Director of ONS was Professor Tim Holt. Subsequent Directors have had an additional title, the National Statistician. The second Director was Len Cook. He was succeeded by Karen Dunnell on 1 September 2005.

[edit] Independence

Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer, had announced that the government intended to introduce legislation in early 2006 to render the ONS and the statistics it generates independent of government, on a model based on the acclaimed independence of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. Such independence was sought by the Royal Statistical Society and the Statistics Commission and had become the policy of the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives. It was originally a 1997 Labour manifesto commitment. It is envisaged that the National Statistician should be directly accountable to Parliament through a more widely-constituted independent governing board. It is not yet clear what implications this may have for her status as a senior civil servant, or for the status of ONS staff as civil servants. She believes that independence may enhance the credibility of all statistics, though the ONS already acts independently according to its own published guidelines, which also provide "kite-marks" for statistics generated by other parts of the government statistical service.

It has been suggested that some statistics produced by other Government departments also ought to be independent of government, for example on hospital waiting lists or crime rates. If so, the production of these figures might move to an independent ONS. However, no decisions have yet been announced.

[edit] Work of the ONS

Where data is broken down by geographical area, this is usually done by the areas defined in the ONS geographical coding system.

The principal areas of data collection are:

  • Agriculture, Fishing and Forestry
  • Commerce, Energy and Industry
  • Crime and Justice
  • Economy
  • Education and Training
  • Health and Care (Among numerous regular surveys, such as the General Household survey, the Labour Force Survey and the census that takes place every 10 years, ONS runs the England and Wales Longitudinal Survey, which monitors the health, address changes and fertility of a 1% sample of the population of England and Wales over time for statistical purposes).
  • Labour Market
  • Natural and Built Environment
  • Population and Migration
  • Public Sector and Other
  • Social and Welfare
  • Transport, Travel and Tourism

Statisticians are also employed by many other Government departments and agencies, and these statisticians often collect and publish data. For example, data on Agriculture, Fishing and Forestry come primarily from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Along with economic data on which the Treasury and Bank of England rely for decision-making, many of the statistics that receive widespread media attention are issued by the Home Office, the Department of Health & the Department for Education.

The statistical work of the ONS has, since June 2000, been scrutinized by the Statistics Commission, an independent body with its own chairman and small staff.

[edit] Criticism of the ONS

Len Cook, when National Statistician, described himself as the country's most abused civil servant. Occasional errors and revisions accounts for some past criticism while the allocation of Private Finance initiative expenditure (albeit following OECD and international statistical guidelines according to who carries the risk) has attracted political attention. Many of the most controversial topics for statistics issued by government do not come from ONS though they are expected to meet ONS standards. Crime statistics and other data (e.g. health and education) that could be deemed to assess the effectiveness of government policies often attract media scepticism. The compulsory nature of the census (unlike most other surveys by academics and market researchers) differentiates ONS from other data collectors (apart from the Inland Revenue). The Office for National Statistics won the 2004 Big Brother Award for the "Most Heinous Government Organisation" from the campaigning organisation Privacy International for its Citizen Information Project. The project is one of several that lead the Government's own Information Commissioner to warn that there is a danger of the country "sleepwalking" into a surveillance society.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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Office for National Statistics

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