Board for Official Statistics minutes: July 2019

Minutes from the Board for Official Statistics' meeting in July 2019.

Attendees and apologies

  • Roger Halliday (Chair)
  • Roeland Beerten (on phone)
  • Gregor Boyd
  • Esta Clark
  • Karen Facey (on phone)
  • Scott Heald
  • Colin Ledlie (on phone)
  • Donald MacRae
  • Susan McVie
  • Alessia Morris
  • Esther Roughsedge
  • Poppy Wilson


  • Iain Wilton

Items and actions

1. Review of latest action plan and risk register – Roger

Roger provided an overview of the latest action plan. The Scottish Public Sector Analytical Collaboration (SPACe) now also includes Registers of Scotland. Some work has been moved into business as usual including the Data Science Accelerator Programme. Work is underway to set up a Research Data Scotland service, and to develop a shared analytical workbench (a set of analytical tools shared across public bodies that can allow analysts to access a wider set of data, and to collaborate to create value with that data).

ESRC funding will be used to organise data better. There are some important new data sources including Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) data that brings together data from Colleges, Universities, DWP and HMRC. First estimates from LEO were published recently. Work is underway on how to make best use of new sources such as satellite data and open banking data.

Work is underway on a set of data policies on who can access data for what purposes, what the costs of this are, and who benefits from this access. This will include a statement of a data ethics framework. Public engagement is planned around public trust with the use of data.

2. General update – Roger, Scott, Esta

Roger provided updates on:

Pre-release access developments

The Economy, Energy and Fair Work published a proposal report on a Pre-Release Access Bill. The Committee has requested a debate on their proposal in September. There are three strands to what the Committee is proposing:

  1. Removal of PRA entirely for two specific categories of economic statistics (GDP and Retail Sales).
  2. A phased approach to, and independent review of the impact of, that removal.
  3. Reducing from five working days to one working day the PRA for those economic statistics (exports, productivity, local government finance, and non-domestic rates) where the maximum is five working days currently.


There are many EU regulations that require the devolved administrations to produce particular statistics to a common, harmonised standard. An existing concordat was reviewed in September 2018 at the GSS Inter Administration Committee, and will be reviewed again in September 2019. There are no immediate plans to update the concordat, though it is expected that references to EU legislation may be removed in preparation for EU-exit, and a review of existing international obligations, such as the provision of data to the EU, will be undertaken.

New producers of official statistics

Our shared vision is to build statistical capacity across the public sector to help better decisions. Work has been done on building skills including on communicating analysis and analytical software. We are working to name an additional seven public bodies in legislation as producers of Official Statistics. Bringing public bodies into the scope of Official Statistics will provide public reassurance of the quality and integrity of the statistics they produce, and ensure that bodies are open, transparent and accountable. Plan to consult UK Statistics Authority, and take to the Parliament this autumn. We are planning to name:

  1. Bòrd na Gàidhlig
  2. NHS Education for Scotland
  3. Public Health Scotland
  4. Scottish Fire and Rescue Service
  5. Scottish Qualifications Authority
  6. Skills Development Scotland
  7. VisitScotland

Recent interactions with Office for Statistics Regulation

They have been taking a more active role, doing more compliance checks for National Statistics outputs moving away from in-depth reviews of one or two outputs. They are working on a themed ‘topic’ approach, which includes groups of different statistics. They are more active in challenging the use of statistics in public.

Scott confirmed that NHS workforce statistics would be transferring from ISD to NHS Education for Scotland (NES) in December 2019.

Esta agree to provide an update on NRS work under the Census 2021 item.

3. Statistician recruitment and retention – Gregor / Scott

Gregor and Scott introduced the paper on statistician recruitment and retention. The Board discussed the different challenges faced. The following points were raised by the Board:

  • The possibility of using secondments to fill vacancies
  • The need to ensure that we get the skillsets needed for official statistics in future, including data science skills; and moving from data collection to data acquisition, and the associated skills required for this
  • The need for a retention strategy to keep skills in-house, including the consideration of exit interviews
  • The importance of liaison with universities to ensure relevant techniques are in the university courses around data
  • The balance between having general and highly specialised posts
  • Flexible working and a hub approach would allow staff to work in more locations

4. Communicating with different audiences (including presentation from Esther Roughsedge on work of NRS) – Roger

Esther presented the work of her team in communicating statistics and sharing learning across the public sector. The Board praised the work of Esther and colleagues.

Roger outlined some planned developments including the launch of podcast on how high profile stats are put together and what they say; and moving analytical content to a new website.

The board raise the following points:

  • The possibility of approaching the modern studies group to target all schools to get them making use of official statistics
  • The importance of measuring impact and the challenges in doing this
  • The need for people to understand how statistics are put together, and improve how this information is used by others
  • The need for more contextual data to complement user personas to ensure a proportionate approach to best meeting user needs 

5. Census 2021 Update – Esta

Esta introduced slides providing an update on the 2021 Census. The list of questions for the Census in Scotland are due to be considered by the Scottish Parliament over the coming year. 

Roger outlined the working group he is establishing on the collection and use of data by sex and gender. There was a discussion of the challenges in different contexts. Roger will discuss issues further with Board members.

6. Data linkage, a new service model – Alessia

Alessia presented on a new service model for Data Linkage including an update on the latest developments. The provisional name for the researcher support service being established is Research Data Scotland (RDS). This will provide a single entry point for researchers regardless of data controller and commission services, and is designed to overcome current challenges.

The Board raised issues around:

  • ensuring there is sufficient capacity for this essential work
  • ensuring that experts are involved in interpreting data
  • providing a clear timeframe for getting data to allow it to be used by a wider audience (e.g. researchers doing a PhD)

7. Date of next meeting

The Board meets every six months and the next meeting will be arranged for the start of 2020.

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