INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS STATISTICS USERS GROUP Influencing change in UK and European business and trade statistics Report of meeting held on 25 June 2009 Members of the Business Statistics Users Group and the International Trade Statistics Users Group approved the merger of their groups to form the International Business Statistics Users Group. Members of their respective Committees, including the two retiring Hon. Treasurers, John Cunningham and Eric Kilby, were thanked for their work over many years. Four speakers outlined current changes in business and trade statistics, the consultation process and its channels, by which users can influence changes in data collection and presentation which they would like to be introduced, and how to argue against changes felt to be detrimental to users. Ben Whitestone, International Relations Branch, ONS, described the ONS and GSS engagement internationally and the UK’s engagement with the European Statistical System. The main responsibilities of his branch included: the provision of internal support on international matters; the development and maintenance of effective relationships with international organisations, organising visitor programmes and attendance at conferences; handling policy issues and legislation issues; and dealing with co-operation outside Europe. In offering a brief overview of the acronym-studded European Statistical System, he specifically drew attention to the new ESAC (European Statistical Advisory Committee) which has replaced CEIES. Its functions were: to ensure that user requirements as well as response burden on information providers and producers are taken into account in developing statistical programmes; and to provide its view on the balance (priorities and resources) between the Commission’s multi-annual and annual statistical work programmes. The UK representative is Professor Denise Lievesley, appointed for a 5-year term. It had its first meeting on 30 June. For further information see http//epp.eurostat.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/esac/. Peter Bekx, Director of Business Statistics, Eurostat talked about European strategy for business and trade statistics – its scope, new requirements and new ways of collecting data. The programme for the next five years – MEETS (Modernising European Enterprise and Trade Statistics) – intended to use a holistic instead of a fragmented approach and would have two main drivers: 1. new and emerging needs stemming from globalisation, the knowledge-based economy and entrepreneurship; and 2. reduction of respondents’ burdens, which he confirmed to be quite small (2% of the total administrative burden). Globalisation areas on which work was being undertaken covered international sourcing, collation of statistics on international goods trade, R&D, innovation, business structures, and international trade in services. Knowledge-based economy topics concerned the interaction between enterprises and across sectors, and intangible assets – patents, licences and software. The entrepreneurship area needed data on business demography – births, deaths and ‘churn’, as well as investigating factors of business success. Burden reduction implied reviewing priorities (collecting less
information – fewer variables, reduced frequency; and identifying subjects of lesser importance), greater use of administrative and accounting data, and development of a data warehouse. The EU’s main interest is in EU aggregate data. Cathy Kruger, UK Statistics Authority, reminded the audience about the purpose and functions of UKSA, including its monitoring and assessment reports. One of its monitoring reviews is on the User Voice with the aim of assessing the status of user engagement across producer bodies, identifying areas of good practice and the benefits of user engagement in statistics production, and identifying shortcomings and how to move on. There will be surveys of public confidence in official statistics, and interviews with opinion formers on issues of trust and user engagement; these are repeats of earlier ONS and Statistics Commission enquiries to determine whether opinions have changed. Most producers are aware of primary users but not of the range and scope of use and users. How to arrange for user views to be sought earlier in the production planning process; and better presentation of how and why decisions are made are important elements. Questions posed to the audience were: Are you happy with the current level of user engagement? Do you feel your voice is heard/your needs are listened to? What would you like to see in the future? Sandra Tudor, Customs and International Trade Statistics, HMRC, concentrated on consultation concerning these statistics. The 2009 Intrastat Triennial Review would be based on two postal surveys. The Trade Statistics Client Management Network was a user consultation channel. Classification was a perennial topic for consultation. Future developments include work on Intrastat Simplification (shorthand for Single Flows [once more]) and streamlining of supplementary units. A lively Q&A revealed that ‘Business Statistics’ at Eurostat also include ICT, Tourism (not yet there) Agriculture, Environment, Energy, and Transport. ‘Social Statistics’ eg Labour market, are the responsibility of another Director. There was a need to understand the existence of direct and indirect users. Quantification of costs/benefits needed to given greater priority.