The Office for National Statistics (ONS) and The Alan Turing Institute have today announced a new strategic partnership to produce close to real-time economic statistics to help track changes in the economy while preserving privacy.

The collaboration, which will initially run for two years, between the UK’s national statistics institute and the national institute for data science and artificial intelligence will see ONS economists, analysts and data scientists working closely with a team of Turing researchers.

The first three projects set for delivery are understanding economic networks, economic nowcasting and synthetic data and privacy preservation.

Understanding economic networks

This project will utilise a variety of cutting-edge data science techniques to provide new insights about transactions between firms in near real time, allowing the ONS to better understand the impact of seasonal patterns and major events such as the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic or EU exit on the UK economy.

Economic nowcasting

By rapidly bringing together a range of new data, we aim to create economic models in close to real time that track changes in retail prices, household spending and income at a detailed local level, allowing us to measure the pulse of the economy.

Synthetic data and privacy preservation

This project will develop tools to allow the sharing of private datasets with a wider range of stakeholders, while preserving privacy. This can be done using synthetic data generators which offer a private way to generate data, whilst preserving statistical features in the original data set. Applying this methodology to sensitive data held by ONS would allow greater flexibility for collaboration between ONS and researchers in the wider community and government.

Commenting on the new strategic partnership, Professor Sir Ian Diamond, UK National Statistician, said:

“For some time now we’ve been combining ‘faster’ data from multiple sources, allowing us to rapidly track important changes in our economy in near-real-time and produce stats with deeper insight. The pandemic has turbocharged this kind of work and demonstrated just how vital it is.

“Our new partnership with the Alan Turing Institute will be key as we continue this journey to harness the power of new forms of data. Together we aim to provide higher quality, more detailed and much faster estimates of changes in our economy and society to help inform policy and improve lives.”

Adrian Smith, Director of The Alan Turing Institute, said:

“High quality data is crucial to the future growth, efficiency and stability of the UK economy. This exciting new strategic partnership gives us a new opportunity to work closely with ONS to provide timely insights enabling data driven decisions with the potential to improve our socio-economic well-being.”

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