ONS opens new hub for UK data science

Newport campus part of £17m investment in new technology and data sources

By Jim Dunton

27 Mar 2017

The Office for National Statistics was today set to open a new Data Science Campus at its south Wales headquarters, as part of a £17m investment in new technology and information sources.

Recommended as part of former Bank of England deputy governor Sir Charlie Bean’s Independent Review of UK Economic Statistics, the Newport campus proposals received the go-ahead in last year’s Spring Budget.

The facility will work with national and international partners from academia, government and business to deliver joint research programmes and to build UK data-science capability.

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The ONS said the centre was part of an ongoing programme of work to meet the challenge of providing “richer and more real-time” statistics to inform decision-makers in government, industry and research.

National statistician John Pullinger said the Data Science Campus would innovate with new methods and data sources, providing opportunities to improve existing statistics and develop new outputs.

“The wide range of training and learning programmes which the campus will offer will also be central to building data science capability across the UK,” he said. 

“The campus will help us realise our vision of better statistics for better decisions.”

Campus managing director Tom Smith said the ONS had a major role to play in training a new generation of talent in data analytics, both at the campus and further afield.

“We are proud to have recruited the UK’s first data analytics apprentices and, working with academia and business, we are planning more opportunities to train people," he said.

“As a nation, we must gain practical advantage from the increased investment in data science research and capability building.”

The Bean Review’s interim findings recognised that the government’s mid-2000s decision to move its main operations away from the London to Newport had resulted in 90% of capital-based staff choosing to leave the organisation.

It said the resultant loss of experience was “widely believed to have had a significant adverse impact on the subsequent production and development of UK economic statistics”, and particularly the National Accounts. But Bean stopped short of calling for a reversal of the move.

Instead, his final report proposed that the ONS should increase its London presence because of the prevalence of key statistics users in the capital, but also create the new Data Science Campus at Newport, as well as an Economics Centre of Excellence.

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