OSR finds 'gaps and fundamental problems' in government data sharing

Written by Beckie Smith on 4 October 2019 in News

Watchdog says departments being slow to share stats is a "major hindrance" to work of ONS

Photo: SAS

Some departments are being too slow to share data critical to understanding what is happening in the UK’s economy and population, the Office for Statistics Regulation has said.

The watchdog said neither the Department for Work and Pensions nor HM Revenue and Customs had submitted the figures the Office for National Statistics needed to deliver “major areas of its work programme” in the last year.

This creates problems for the devolved administrations that rely on the ONS to collect data on their behalf from government departments, the OSR said.


The warning came in a progress update on a review by the OSR last year of how data is being used and shared between areas of government.

In the original report, published in September 2018, the regulator said departments needed to do more to link up the statistics they each produced to improve understanding of the UK economy and population, and to drive policy change. A failure to link up data effectively meant value was “being squandered”, it said.

The report also called for more to be done to inform the public about how government is using data responsibly, and to ensure information about data use is accessible for a wide public audience.

Just over a year on, the OSR said there were still “notable gaps and some fundamental problems that must be addressed”.

Neither the Department for Work and Pensions nor HM Revenue and Customs had submitted data that the OSR required to deliver “major areas of its work programme”, it said. This “has consequences for devolved administrations who rely on ONS to acquire data from these departments on their behalf”, the watchdog said.

The two departments are now planning to share the required data with the ONS in the autumn. But in a letter to interim national statistician Jonathan Athow, OSR director general for regulation Ed Humpherson said: “This disappointing delay is a major hindrance to understanding what is happening to the UK’s economy and population – at the point when there is heightened public and policy interest in these issues.”

In its updated the report, the OSR also said that the delay to the three-year Spending Review – which had been planned for this year but was abandoned in favour of a one-year Spending Round due to uncertainty about Brexit – the government had been unable to fund infrastructure to improve the quality of data across departments.

And there had been little progress on improving the information available to the public about how their data is used, the report found.

It said there was also a lack of "lack of cross-departmental, clear and coherent information for the public as to how data are shared and used safely to deliver public benefit, and no apparent plans to develop this”.

“With a few exceptions, meaningful public engagement on data use is not yet a routine or core activity for statistics producers,” it added.

The report did find progress had been made in several areas, including cross-government work it was leading with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to improve data quality.

Other examples of progress highlighted in the report included the launch of the Economic and Social Research Council-backed Administrative Data Research UK, which is developing datasets for research projects that will aim to “answer cross-government, policy-relevant questions”.

But many of these developments have “progressed at a slower pace than is ideal”, the report said.

Author Display Name
Beckie Smith
About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets @Beckie__Smith.

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