UKSA review warns of 'systemic, often cultural barriers' to departments sharing data

Report urges Cabinet Office and Treasury to tackle the issue
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By Tevye Markson

14 Mar 2024

An independent review of the UK Statistics Authority has urged the Cabinet Office and Treasury to tackle the "systemic, often cultural barriers" to data sharing between departments.

The review, by Prof Denise Lievesley, found that UKSA’s “efficacy is hampered by the systemic and cultural barriers to responsible data sharing between government departments”.

It says this is "most keenly apparent, but not limited to"  the development of the Integrated Data Service, a cross-government Office for National Statistics-led central hub which aims to provide high-quality accessible data.

The review says UKSA should not be responsible for resolving this issue alone, as “the benefits of data sharing extend beyond statistical work and will result in more efficient delivery of public services”.

“The responsibility therefore must lie with the Cabinet Office, with the support of HM Treasury, to bring departments together to remove the barriers to data sharing and to hold departments to account when they are not sharing data as required by law,” the review says.

The review also argues that the medium and long-term cost to government of not establishing a standard, cross-government approach needs to be “better understood and owned at the most senior levels of government”.

Additionally, the report says many of those consulted for the review shared concerns about the programme itself. It calls for the ONS to listen and “take urgent steps to ensure the successful delivery of the IDS, which is a vital programme for government”.

In its response, published alongside the review, the Cabinet Office said it agreed “in principle” with the recommendation and would set out a more detailed response later this year.

“We are committed to push forward on this important issue with the support of other departments,” it said.

Robert Chote, chair of UKSA, also expressed his support for the proposal, which he said "holds great potential for public benefit".

The review also recommended that the UKSA should lead discussions between the four nations and to encourage the creation of more UK wide data by “creating common standards and improving harmonisation where appropriate and mutually agreed”. It said the Treasury should ensure that funding is available to support this.

The Cabinet Office said it agrees with this recommendation. It said the government is “committed to working with the UKSA (particularly ONS) and the devolved administrations to put in place a better system to increase the collection and publication of UK wide comparable data, including future legislative options if required”.

But it added that “any funding decisions will need to be considered as part of the next Spending Review”.

In the Cabinet Office’s response, it picked out the data-sharing issues within government and between different parts of the Union as the “two multifaceted, persistent challenges” highlighted by the review.

The department said its response only sets out its “initial thinking” on these issue to enable the review to be published “as quickly as possible”. 

It added: “The onus is now for us to work with other government departments to develop nuanced policy solutions to the challenges identified. Once this work has been completed it is our intention to publish a more detailed response to these two recommendations later in 2024.”

The Cabinet Office was slammed by Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee chair William Wragg earlier this year for repeated delays to the review's publication. The review was supposed to be kicked off in early 2023 and published in June 2023, but in the end did not start until June 2023 and took 10 months to complete.

Cabinet Office to consider splitting national statistician role

The review also calls for the Cabinet Office and UKSA board to commission a review of the role of the national statistician, “examining the many component parts of the national statistician role in order to decide whether to propose changes to the role and what this may look like”.

“This should also identify where changes to the act may be required to facilitate the delegation or sharing of the national statistician’s responsibilities,” the report says.

In response, the Cabinet Office said “in recent years the role of National Statistician has been a challenge to appoint and welcomes this suggestion to review the role”.

It said it will “undertake a proportionate review, with input from the UKSA Board, of the role in 2025 to explore if and how the role can be split”.

The review also suggests that the Cabinet Office should examine the "talent pipeline and talent development structures" across the Government Statistical Service to ensure that “those with potential to be future applicants for the national statistician post and other senior roles in the statistical system are identified and nurtured”. The Cabinet Office said it would work with GSS on developing this. 

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