PACAC backs Sir Robert Chote for Statistics Authority chair role

Committee says it is satisfied that Chote is suitable for the post but raises concerns over lack of diversity in application process
Source: Baldo Sciacca

By Tevye Markson

04 Apr 2022

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has approved former Office for Budget Responsibility head Sir Robert Chote as the new UK Statistics Authority chair.

Chote was picked by the government in March as its preferred candidate for the role after an open recruitment process.

PACAC interviewed Chote on March 26 and published their recommendation on March 29, endorsing him for the role based on his answers about his early priorities, the challenges facing the statistical system and the Cabinet Office’s forthcoming review of UKSA.

David Jones, standing in for the chair,  William Wragg, said: “We are pleased to endorse the appointment of Sir Robert Chote as chair of the UK Statistics Authority.

"He brings with him considerable experience and a clear commitment to ensuring timely and trustworthy statistics in government, the importance of which we have all grown to appreciate in the last few years. We wish him every success in the role and look forward to continued engagement with him.”

MPs raised concern, however, about the Cabinet Office’s decision to withhold diversity data for the appointment process, saying: “The committee infers from this is that there was little diversity in the applicant pool for this role and if so that the Cabinet Office must work to address this with future public appointment processes.”

The government will now decide on whether to finalise the appointment in consultation with the Queen.

Previous UKSA chair Sir David Norgrove left the role on 31 March, having finished his five-year term.

The government has appointed UKSA deputy chair Sian Jones as interim chair until it has completed the recruitment process to replace Norgrove.

At the PACAC hearing, Chote said he is a “passionate believer in the contribution that comprehensive, timely and high-quality statistics can make both to public understanding of the world around us and to the formulation of good policy”.

He said would aim to ensure that the statistical system is trusted; transparent; responsive to users and other stakeholders; collaborative with other institutions; impartial; innovative; and that it operates ethically and efficiently.

Setting out what his plans would be for the next year, he said the "three main meals on the menu" would be delivering the Office for National Statistics Integrated Data Service, supporting and challenging the ONS in its dissemination of the 2021 Census results, and improving economic statistics.

He said these would address the big issues facing the statistical world: making further and better use of administrative data; encouraging data sharing across government and beyond; and encouraging and facilitating the widest possible use of data.

As well as leading the OBR from 2010 to 2020, Chote has held roles as chair of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and as economics editor at the Financial Times – having started his career as a journalist.

Chote is currently serving part-time as the first chair of the Northern Ireland Fiscal Council, an independent body created in 2021 to bring greater transparency and independent scrutiny to Northern Ireland’s public finances.

He also chairs the external advisory group of the Parliamentary Budget Office in the Republic of Ireland.

Chote studied economics at Queens’ College, Cambridge, where he is now an honorary fellow, journalism at City University in London and public policy at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC.

He has an honorary doctorate from the University of York and is a visiting professor at King's College London. He was knighted in 2021 for services to fiscal policy and the economy.

The UKSA chair is responsible for delivering on the watchdog’s mandate of informing the public about social and economic matters; assisting in the development and evaluation of public policy; regulating quality; and publicly challenging the misuse of statistics.

Created in 2008, UKSA regulates departmental stats and is also responsible for the provision of official statistics through the Office of National Statistics.

In 2019, PACAC called for it to be disbanded and split into two distinct new bodies, saying tension between its core roles had “compromised” the organisation’s ability ensure official data serves the public good.

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