National statistician: ‘We are looking at whether a traditional census goes ahead in 2031’

After concluding a year that was ‘transformational, challenging and educational’, the ONS is now considering the possibilities for major changes in how it gathers statistics, according to Sir Ian Diamond

The yearly Permanent Secretaries Roundup published by PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World sees government’s senior leaders discuss the experiences of the past year – as well as shedding light on their plans for festive season and beyond. National statistician Sir Ian Diamond lifts the lid on potential major reforms ahead for the work of the Office for National Statistics.

Tell us three words that sum up your 2023… 
Transformational, Challenging, Educational.

…And why you chose those words
This year has seen the ONS embark on some of its most transformational work to date. This includes continuing brilliant work on the Transformed Labour Force Survey (TLFS) and the consultation on the Future of Population and Migration Statistics (FPMS) which will feed into my recommendation to the UK Statistics Authority Board. Navigating revisions to some of our estimates, namely our GDP and net migration statistics, presented challenges, but it has been brilliant to engage with a range of stakeholders in ensuring these obstacles are turned into educational opportunities. We have made sure to include explainers on why revisions are made and why uncertainty exists in in our estimates, better communicating this to our diverse users. This brings me to this year’s “One Big Thing”: data. What a brilliant opportunity to encourage civil servants across government to engage with what I personally think is an incredibly exciting and crucial topic. Although I may be biased!

What are your organisational and personal priorities for 2024?
As touched on above, one of my biggest organisational priorities is the Future of Population and Migration Statistics in England and Wales recommendation. We have received an incredibly impressive number of responses which are being analysed at the moment. As part of this, we will be looking at whether a traditional Census goes ahead in 2031 – so there is a lot at stake! I look forward to working with colleagues across government to ensure my recommendation to the UKSA Board meets the needs of users. My personal priorities are simple: stay fit, healthy and as motivated about statistics for the public good as I am today.

What’s your favourite festive treat, and what makes you say: ‘Bah, humbug’?
I enjoy physical activity and staying fit. With this in mind, I would have to say my favourite festive “treat” is starting Christmas morning with a (sometimes rather chilly) run followed by watching my son play football on Boxing Day. I might even end up refereeing a match!

All entries in Civil Service World’s 2023 Permanent Secretaries Roundup can be read here

Sam Trendall

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