The National Statistician
Under the Statistics Act, the National Statistician, like the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, is appointed by Her Majesty the Queen. The post holder is a civil servant, an employee of the Statistics Authority and one of its three executive members.
The National Statistician is required to carry out the following functions:
act as the Statistics Authority's Chief Executive,
advise the Statistics Authority on the quality, good practice and comprehensiveness of official statistics,
exercise any functions delegated by the Statistics Authority.
In order to maintain public trust in the integrity of the Statistics Authority's assessment process, the National Statistician may not take part in the Statistics Authority's assessment of official statistics.
Although not mentioned in the Act, the National Statistician continues to be the Head of the Government Statistical Service (GSS), and in relation to the Heads of Profession for Statistics in the GSS, continues to act in the capacity of primus inter pares (first amongst equals).
The Government Statistical Service
The UK statistical system is decentralised. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is the central producer of official statistics and remains the UK's National Statistical Institute (NSI) but policy departments retain responsibility for the production of statistics relating to their own areas of responsibility.
The Director of ONS co-ordinates the production of official statistics through their dual role as National Statistician and Head of the Government Statistical Service (GSS).
The Statistics and Registration Service Act makes no reference to the Government Statistical Service (GSS) which consists of about 7,000 civil servants (1,200 of whom are professional analysts) who are involved in the collection, production and dissemination of official statistics, and who report to either the Heads of Profession for Statistics in each of the main UK Government Departments, or to the Chief Statisticians in the Devolved Administrations of Scotland and Wales. (The equivalent staff in Northern Ireland does not affiliate with the GSS but work closely with their GSS colleagues.) The Act refer to the National Statistician's role as the Head of the Government Statistical Service, or to the long-standing convention that Heads of Profession and Chief Statisticians are professionally accountable to the National Statistician.
This omission is explained by the fact that the GSS is a 'virtual community' rather than a legal construct and operates without any formal institutional structure or chain of command.
It is implicit however, that the GSS governance arrangements set out in the 'ONS Framework' and in the 'Framework for National Statistics' will continue to operate under the new arrangements set out in the Statistics Act and are subject to the agreement of UK Government Departments and the devolved administrations.
In a consultation document published in March 2006 and entitled 'Independence for Statistics', the Government invited the GSS to 'consider whether the proposed reforms (leading to the Statistics Act) provide an opportunity to strengthen its functions'.
The National Statistician is presently considering this issue. One of her proposals is to develop and publish a Code of Conduct for the GSS with a view to reinforcing the professional ties that bind the GSS.
The devolved administrations
The Statistics and Registration Service Act applies to all four nations of the UK. The Statistics Authority is therefore responsible for promoting and safeguarding the production of statistics in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Act places a number of obligations on the Statistics Authority. For example, the Statistics Authority must consult ministers from the devolved administrations on:
the Code of Practice for Statistics,
the principles and procedures for assessment,
the appointment of at least one Statistics Authority non-executive member.
By extending the role of the Statistics Authority to assess and monitor the standards of statistics produced in each administration, the devolved administrations will be able to demonstrate that their statistics continue to be produced with integrity and to standards comparable with international best practice.
The Statistics Authority is also required to submit an annual report to the UK Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. This ensures that the Statistics Authority has adequately considered devolved issues, and provides each Parliament or Assembly with the opportunity to discuss the Statistics Authority's work.
Discussions are under way to determine, in detail, how the new arrangements operate across the four nations.