National statistician John Pullinger on the ‘marvellous opportunity’ of the Digital Economy Act

The head of the government statistical service looks back on 2018

Credit: Photoshot

The annual perm secs round-up published by PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World sees Whitehall’s senior leaders open up on their biggest challenges and opportunities – as well as their thoughts on how best to mark the festive season. Here national statistician John Pullinger – who is due to retire in June 2019 – discusses the potential impact of legislation and his favourite statistical pioneer.

What was your highlight of 2018? 
The highlight of my year was attending the Government Statistical Service GSS conference in Manchester where, along with colleagues, we celebrated 50 years of the GSS. The commitment of colleagues from across the system to delivering the best information they can to help government, business and citizens make better decisions remains the most inspiring and motivating part of my job.

What was the hardest part of being a leader in 2018? 
I have been national statistician for four years now and, as ever, the hardest part for me has been ensuring I don’t get so caught up in the issues of the day that I miss spending time with my family. It is important to protect some time for yourself and your family so you can give your best every day at work. Sometimes remembering that in the heat of the moment can be difficult. It is so easy as a permanent secretary to take on too much, but the civil service is full of brilliant, committed people and we work best as a team. 

What are the main challenges facing your organisation in the coming year? 
In 2018 we have been afforded a marvellous opportunity to improve our understanding of the economy and society through the Digital Economy Act. In the coming year we need to turn it to use with better evidence for decision makers, along with enhanced public confidence in the protections afforded to data.

Which celebrity or historical figure would you choose to turn on the Christmas lights in your town, and why? 
One of the most prominent statisticians in history, who changed the way we think about healthcare with groundbreaking use of data visualisation. A pioneer in providing statistics in a form that people could easily understand and use to take decisions. I would have the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society, Florence Nightingale, turn on the Christmas lights in my hometown.



Sam Trendall

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