ONS loses deputy national statistician as hunt for new chief continues

Heather Savory to join UN data body as hunt for new national statistician continues

Heather Savory Credit: ONS

By Jim.Dunton

24 May 2019

The Office for National Statistics has announced that one of its three deputy national statisticians is to leave the organisation – potentially leaving it short of two top leaders in the coming months.

Heather Savory is to join the United Nations Working Group on Big Data for Official Statistics – GWD for short – from next month, when national statistician John Pullinger is set to retire. Pullinger’s role also includes serving as chief executive of the UK Statistics Authority and head of the Government Statistical Service.

Pullinger gave advance notice he would step down from his role in November last year, but in April it emerged that the recruitment process had not secured a suitable candidate for the £160,000-a-year perm-sec level post.


At the time the organisation, which is the executive office of the UKSA, said it was discussing the next steps in the recruitment process with the Civil Service Commission.

Executive director of the Royal Statistical Society Hetan Shah said that although Pullinger’s three deputy national statisticians would be able to “hold the fort” in the interim, it was concerning that UKSA had been unable to attract anyone willing to take up the role.

Savory’s departure reduces the number of deputy national statisticians to two: Jonathan Athow, who is responsible for economic statistics, and Iain Bell, who is responsible for population and public policy.

Pullinger said Savory had brought great energy and determination to her role as deputy national statistician and director general for data capability.

“I know she will continue to bring that commitment to the UN Global Platform. This project is at the heart of the global ambition to mobilise the power of data,” he said.

“Heather leaves ONS digital and data capability in a radically better place than it was four years ago, including through the Data Science Campus, Data Access Platform, Security Strategy, Secure Research Service and other associated infrastructures, policies and services.

“The organisation is now well placed to reap the rewards in the years ahead. Heather will be missed by many colleagues across the office and I am sure they will join me in wishing her well for the future.”

Savory has been involved with the GWG’s work since 2016, when she was invited to lead a task team considering emerging technologies for the use of Big Data, with a focus on enabling the delivery of the 2030 sustainable development goals, representing the ONS at an international level in the process.

CSW understands that Pullinger still plans to retire next month, and an update on the national statistician post is expected shortly.

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