‘Government’s major policy problems require a cross-departmental approach’ – National Statistician

The government’s new statistics guru Ian Diamond discusses how government can make best use of data

Credit: PA

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 remembrances of Christmases past. National statistician professor Sir Ian Diamond offers his insights into improving the quality and use of government data, and why Boxing Day is an ideal time to have your trodden on.

What was your highlight of 2019?
Being appointed as national statistician and being able to spend time meeting so many brilliant statisticians right across government. We’re building a modern, data-driven statistical system fit for the 21st century and our ambition is put that right at the heart of everything government does in terms of policymaking. We all have a part to play in helping Britain make better decisions and I truly believe that there is no job in the UK which can have as great an impact on everyone’s life as this one.

What has been the most significant change in your organisation this year?
I think we’re changing in two ways: firstly by increasing the focus on inclusivity in all that we do and secondly by recognising that so many of the major problems that government faces in terms of policy require a cross-departmental approach. We need to think and act cross-departmentally too; I expect that will be a major theme of the new strategy for government statistics we’ll be formulating and launching next year.     

What will be the biggest challenge of 2020 – and how are you preparing to meet it?
To drive forwards the development and use of data from across all of government so we’re equipped to inform policy decisions really effectively. To achieve that we also need to develop the analytical skills we have available to us. I should add that we also plan to use next year to make sure we have a brilliant Census in 2021. The results of the local rehearsals we held this year have been fairly encouraging but it would be foolish to underestimate the scale of that challenge.   

Tell us a favourite festive memory from your youth…
Throughout my later youth I always looked forward to playing in the local derby rugby match on Boxing Day in the hope of working off a little of the festive indulgence of the day before. Sometimes this also involved getting my head trodden on a number of times – but that’s another story!



Sam Trendall

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