UK National Statistician John Pullinger on making the most of data and maintaining public confidence in 2017

Written by Civil Service World on 12 December 2016 in Interview

With the end of 2016 fast approaching, we asked the UK's top officials to look back at the year, outline their goals for 2017 – and shed some light on their festive favourites. John Pullinger, chief executive of the UK Statistics Authority, takes part in our annual perm secs round-up...

UK national statistician John Pullinger, photographed for Photoshot by Gary Lee

What was your highlight of 2016?

In May 2016 the Queen’s Speech announced the Digital Economy Bill. If passed through parliament, the bill will enable much better use of data and clear assurance for the public on how it is being used. There is a big prize here that could put the UK in a leading position internationally.

This year also saw the opening of the ONS Data Science Campus. We have an opportunity both to rise to the challenge of measuring our fast-evolving world, and to make use of huge amounts of new data and information to help policymakers, researchers and businesses make better decisions. The Data Science Campus will act as a hub to build a new generation of tools and technologies, improve skills and find answers to questions about the economy, society and the environment.

What has been the most significant change in your organisation this year?

In February 2016, the ONS launched a new website which has provided a marked change on how people can access high quality information and allows much quicker and easier searching of our outputs.

"Making the best use of data and also assuring public confidence will be a big challenge for 2017"

We have also seen an increased demand for our data and statistics, particularly for our economic statistics, before and following the EU referendum. We are creating an Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence (ESCoE) which will encourage greater collaboration between ONS and external partners. ESCoE will help solve challenges we face with new forms of economic activity in a globalised world.

What will be the biggest challenge of 2017 – and how are you preparing to meet it?

Making the best use of data and also assuring public confidence will be a big challenge for 2017. Very significant improvements in our ability to understand the economy and society are possible. The improvements we are making are designed to help policymakers, businesses and the public to make better decisions. At this critical time for our country it is essential that we have good and timely information. To be successful it will be critical to ensure that the public has confidence in us and in the uses we are making of data to serve the public good.

These changes require a radical transformation within our organisations. Increasing our capability and capacity at the pace required can only be done through better cross-government collaboration (and with partners outside government). We have a very strong analytical community which has always risen to new challenges. Following the EU referendum, we have already developed innovative methods to provide answers to important public policy questions. The Government Statistical Service conference in September showcased the depth and breadth of work going on across government. It has been especially pleasing to see colleagues working so well together across organisational boundaries under intense pressure on several issues.

What was the best Christmas present that you’ve ever received?

Anything for the garden always goes down well.

And the worst?

Loud shirts.

More: Perm secs round-up 2016 – Britain's top civil servants review the year and look ahead to 2017

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