Office for National Statistics eyes new £17m data facilities in wake of Bean Review

New data science projects given the go-ahead in this week’s Budget will give the nation richer and more precise economic figures, the Office for National Statistics has said

By Jim Dunton

18 Mar 2016

Two new data analysis hubs proposed for the Office for National Statistics’ south Wales headquarters have been given the green light as part of a £17m package of investment.

The move follows the recommendations made in Sir Charlie Bean’s Independent Review of UK Economic Statistics, which was published last week, and will see the creation of a “Data Science Campus” and an “Economics Centre of Excellence” at Newport.

Bean's report called for the ONS to become a more user-focused and collaborative organisation, and said statistical capacity appeared to be growing faster in the wider civil service than it is in the ONS. It also said the decision of the ONS to move from London to Newport in the mid-2000s had weakened statistical capacity in the capital, but called for creation of new data hub in Newport to "serve as a focal point for the development of data science and data analysis techniques".

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According to the ONS, the new Data Science Campus will be run in partnership with academics and allow “the whole of government” to benefit from the development of more real-time economic statistics, allowing emerging issues and trends to be spotted more quickly and understood in greater detail.

It said the centre of excellence would be focused on developing strategic partnerships with leading academics and experts in the field of economic statistics and provide a venue for cutting-edge research into new ways of measuring output and value in the digital age.

Chancellor George Osborne committed “over £10m” to the projects in Wednesday’s Budget. Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock said this week that the remaining funding would come from the ONS.

Hancock added that “at least 30” highly-skilled roles” would be created by the initiative.

The ONS told Civil Service World that the Treasury was investing £11.7m in the project over two years, and that the ONS itself would contribute a further £5m.

Deputy national statistician for economic statistics Jonathan Athow said the new centres would help meet the economic data requirements of the 21st century.

“This exciting announcement will greatly help ONS meet the challenges of measuring new forms of economic activity and give policy makers better insights into the UK economy,” he said.

“The Economics Centre of Excellence and Data Science Campus are part of ONS’s wider plans to transform into a more innovative, capable and outward-looking organisation.”

The ONS said the new data centres would contribute to other recommendations in the Bean review – including an increase in its London presence a decade after it shed more than 900 jobs in the capital, and better ties with other government departments, the academic world, and the private sector.

It said the initiatives would involve a hybrid of staff being based at the Newport office, building presence in its London office, and partnering with academics and universities across the country.

The data campus was expected to have a larger footprint in Newport, and to host the bulk of the new roles announced by Hancock, while the centre of excellence would be more focused on partnerships.

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