The Public Sector Finances statistical bulletin is a monthly publication released jointly by ONS and HM Treasury. It contains the latest figures on public sector current budget deficit, net borrowing and net debt. From 21 June 2011 to 31 July 2011 a Public Sector Finances user engagement survey was conducted using a web questionnaire. This article presents a summary of the results from the user survey. The survey has indicated that there is a user requirement for improving the content and layout of the Public Sector Finances statistical bulletin. At the time of writing the bulletin was also being assessed by the UK Statistics Authority. The outcome of this review is expected later in 2011 and when known ONS and HM Treasury will be reviewing the bulletin with the aim of producing an improved publication soon after.
The Public Sector Finances statistical bulletin is a monthly publication released jointly by ONS and HM Treasury. It contains the latest figures on public sector current budget deficit, net borrowing and net debt. These are the main aggregates used to monitor public sector finances and form the basis of the Government's fiscal policy. The Office for Budget Responsibility, forecast these aggregates in their Economic and Fiscal Outlook.
From 21 June 2011 to 31 July 2011 a Public Sector Finances user engagement survey was conducted using a web questionnaire linked from the statistical bulletin, statistical nugget and statistical product page. The survey was also promoted on the Statistical User Forum website.
In accordance with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics requirements the objectives of the user engagement survey were to investigate:
• Who the users of the statistical product were?
• What were the statistics used for, including the decisions they informed?
• Users’ perceptions of the quality of the statistics, statistical presentation, and statistical commentary
• Users’ perceptions of the statistical service in relation to this particular statistical product
The survey also aimed to collect user contact information to be collated into a central list of users.
In total 18 people responded to the survey. It must be noted that respondents to the survey were self selecting so results are not representative, but do provide a useful insight into the use of the statistics and perceptions of users.
Just over a half of the respondents answered the questions about their main sector of employment. Of these just under a half worked for financial corporations, the rest worked for the media, local government, educational establishments or were members of the public.
In response to the question asking which estimates they used, around a half of respondents used the front page, the main results page and Table 8: Public sector finances Net debt (ex financial interventions). Around a third of respondents used the charts and tables in the main report, Table 2: Public Sector Net Borrowing, Table 9: Long run fiscal indicators as a percentage of GDP and Table 10: Public sector statistics: Revisions since last publication. The least use was made of Table5: Reconciliation of public net borrowing with net cash requirement.
For those who responded to the Public Sector Finances user engagement survey the main use for the statistics was for general background information or for research. Only 1 respondent stated that they did not use the statistics.
Of the 18 respondents 11 answered the question on how satisfied they were with the Public Sector Finances bulletin. Respondents were allowed to select multiple responses. Around 80 per cent of those responding said that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the timeliness of the bulletin, its ease of access, the accuracy of the estimates, the comparability over time and between sources and the adherence to planned publication dates. Around 60 percent were either satisfied or very satisfied with the relevance of the bulletin to their needs.
Only just over 30 percent were either satisfied or very satisfied with the bulletin’s clarity (illustrations and accompanying advice), coherence with other statistical sources, metadata (additional information about the data item) and the relevance to thir needs. While for the same aspects of the bulletin just over 30 per cent were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied and a similar amount rated the bulletin as poor or very poor.
Respondents were asked to rate the front page, background notes, overall design and layout, overall presentation and the overall commentary of the Public Sector Finances bulletin using a rating ranging from very poor to very good. Multiple responses were allowed and 10 out of 18 respondents answered the question. The majority of respondents, just over half, rated the overall quality of the Public Sector Finances statistical bulletin as fair, with the rest rating the quality as either poor or very good in approximately equal numbers respectively.
There was slightly stronger support for the quality of the front page with 80 per cent rating it as either fair or better.
Respondents were asked ‘Overall, how would you rate the statistical service provided for the Public Sector Finances estimates?’, Of the 18 respondents, 11 answered this question. Just under a half of those who answered the question rated the service as fair, with the remaining respondents split equally between good and poor.
The survey has indicated that there is a user demand for improving the clarity, coherence and metadata of the Public Sector Finances statistical bulletin and also improving the presentation of statistics and commentary in it. At the time of writing the bulletin it is being assessed by the UK Statistics Authority. The resulting Assessment report is expected to be published in November 2011. In response, ONS and HM Treasury will review the bulletin with the aim of improving its quality including the extent to which it meets user needs and will take account of the views expressed by users in response to this survey.
We plan to run the Public Sector Finances user engagement survey every two years.
Prior to the next survey please contact email@example.com if you have any queries or feedback.
Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/code-of-practice/index.html or from the Media Relations Office email: firstname.lastname@example.org
These National Statistics are produced to high professional standards and released according to the arrangements approved by the UK Statistics Authority.