The Office for National Statistics' woes may worsen, if today's FT report by Chris Giles is an indication: Welsh transfer a 'risk' to statistics, says Bank
The relocation of the majority of government statisticians to Newport in Wales poses a serious risk to the quality of economic data, according to the Bank of England. Papers released by the Treasury select committee yesterday revealed the extent of concern within the Bank about the performance at the Office for National Statistics.
Cuts in the quality of data collection, with across-the-board cuts in survey sample sizes, have alarmed its economists and the monetary policy committee, making sensitive interest rate decisions - such as the one the MPC will announce today - more difficult.
...So concerned is the Bank that it should make decisions on the best possible information, it has ensured its economists will in future be able to access computer programmes that use other independent information to improve the reliability of official data.
In its memorandum to the Treasury select committee, the Bank argued the planned relocation of the ONS statisticians to Newport "poses a serious risk to the maintenance of the quality of macroeconomic data".
"If substantial numbers of ONS staff are unwilling to relocate, the loss of skilled individuals could have a severe impact on a range of statistics."
It argued that the delays in the ONS's attempts to modernise the national accounts were "very unwelcome; so were the cuts to regular activities and specific ONS products such as the 2007 Blue Book".
...Yesterday the ONS insisted that it was doing everything possible to minimise the risks associated with its relocation. It said: "We are confident what we've got in place will do the job."
The data quality problems seem to have two main causes: survey cutbacks due to an ONS budget squeeze, and staff shortages because of departures by statisticians unwilling to move from London to Wales. Today's Independent reports Move to Wales 'risks data quality'
As part of Gordon Brown's plans to move civil service jobs out of London, the bulk of the ONS's Pimlico-based staff were to be relocated to Newport, South Wales. But about a third of those affected have resigned, retired early or taken redundancy. Karen Dunnell, who heads the ONS, admitted yesterday that she expects only around 15 per cent of those workers asked to move to comply.
An unintended and, it would seem, rather unfortunate consequence of the much-heralded 2004 Lyons Review.
UPDATE: Edmund Conway has further details in Monday's Telegraph: ONS revolt may delay relocation to Wales
The Office for National Statistics may delay the transfer of hundreds of its staff to Wales amid concerns that the troubled department is facing a full-scale revolt from its senior Whitehall officials. Insiders have warned that the department is in crisis, with nine out of 10 executives claiming the ONS is badly managed.
National statistician Karen Dunnell has indicated to staff that the department is prepared to push back the deadline for relocation if important statistics come under threat. It follows a warning from the Bank of England that the relocation poses a serious risk to the quality of key economic data.
The senior civil servants' union, the First Division Association (FDA), has warned Parliament that the changes are putting the ONS's ability to produce world-class statistics at risk. In a further blow, it also claims that the modernisation programme started by the previous director, Sir Len Cook, had "affected adversely both efficiency and quality" of statistics.
...Only 11pc of senior civil servants think the ONS is well-managed as a whole, or that change at the department was well-managed, according to an internal survey.