Headlines: March 17th, 2006

Steps to improve the quality of data on public spending have been set out in an article prepared by the Office for National Statistics. The article follows concerns in a recent report on the issue and it details the significant progress being made in respect of the central government data supply process.The ONS article, “Improving the quality of Central Government Expenditure Data” is a response to the Atkinson Review Final Report, “Measurement of Government Output and Productivity for the National Accounts” which was published last year and which raised concerns over quality of some public expenditure data supplied and entered into the National Accounts.

The article describes the development of a “clear line of sight” so all those providing and using the data understand the compilation of the National Accounts. This, it says, will give greater transparency and allow easier detection and rectification of potential mistakes. Other steps towards improvement include making more use of the new Treasury public finances database and the idea of making Government departments responsible for the accuracy of the data they supply to the Treasury. Whitehall departments, the ONS and the Treasury are working together on this.

National Statistician, Karen Dunnell said public spending accounted for more than a fifth of Britain’s GDP, excluding transfers like social security payments, or around 40 per cent when these were included. “Ensuring the accuracy of the public sector data on which the National Accounts and the public finance statistics are based is crucial. ONS is committed to ensuring integrity and transparency of National Statistics,” she added.

Moving all departments and the devolved administrations to the Treasury’s new database is a major undertaking which began in the middle of last year. The transition period is expected to last until this summer, during which time it is possible that the quality of the data for recent periods will be affected and this may lead to larger than usual revisions to National Accounts and Public Sector Finance statistics. Once the transition is complete, however, the Government expects to see the full benefits of better data consistency, detailed breakdowns, quality assurance processes and increased transparenc