In late February, the Office for National Statistics decided to classify the Treasury’s raid on the Bank of England’s accumulated interest payments from quantitative easing as a receipt for the public sector.
You can have a long and reasonable argument on whether the raid, euphemistically called a “cash management operation”, is a good idea. But I argued a few days later that the treatment of an internal public sector transfer of money as government revenue in the headline figures was a poor decision by the Office for National Statistics. There was no world in which the underlying public finances had been improved by the move, I argued.
As a journalist I was appalled that Britain’s independent statistical authority was setting out a legalistic argument for an economic question and for a set of statistics that were not governed by international conventions. I felt the statistics for borrowing and debt could not be trusted any more.
As a member of the public, I wrote to the chairman of the UK Statistical Authority, the statistics watchdog, to ask for a review of the ONS decision (email reproduced below). Today, I received a reply from Andrew Dilnot, the UKSA chairman (also reproduced). I am delighted to say the UKSA thinks I raised important points and has set up a short review. Read more
Real geeks like me who like downloading data from national statistical websites will have come into work today all of a quiver. The UK Office for National Statistics launched its new website over the weekend promising “to make it easier for our users to find the content they are looking for“.
Apart from expected teething troubles of extremely slow running, the website shows a worrying lack of input from statisticians. For a start, selection of individual data seems to working only occasionally. Most alarmingly, when data is downloaded in Excel, the format conflates annual data, quarterly data and monthly data as below.
No one would ever want to look at data in this crazy format. Monthly data is even worse, mixing monthly quarterly and annual data in one column.
I have complained to the ONS. But in a spirit of public service, I have two ways to work around the problem.
Smartphones and the applications that run on them have been added to the basket that makes up the consumer price index, along with fees paid to dating agencies.
The Office for National Statistics on Tuesday unveiled changes to the composition of its CPI and retail price index baskets, intended to represent a “typical” shopping basket for households – an exercise it undertakes every year. Because shopping habits change, items are constantly being added and removed from both indices. Read more