All ONS productivity outputs, whole economy, sector or industry level series, are constructed from data for individual firms collected through ONS surveys. Since 1995 information technology has made it possible to look behind the overall figures to understand better how they are driven by the performance of individual firms. This is valuable in developing statistical evidence for the design and assessment of policy.
Most ONS business surveys are carried out under the Statistics of Trade Act 1947, which makes completion of the survey compulsory but limits the use to statistical purposes. A programme to develop microdata access began in 1997, and to link microdata from different surveys in 2001.
Since 2004, ONS has provided secure access to confidential microdata for statistical research through a 'virtual microdata laboratory' (VML) facility. This VML provides useful research access to these data, for statistical analysis by accredited experts. Analysis of individual survey returns, rather than macro level statistics, has enabled these researchers to look at individual drivers of productivity.
This chapter describes the VML, and the use and policy impact of micro productivity work. It gives an overview of the datasets and information currently available to researchers while maintaining security.