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The Royal Statistical Society’s Statistics User Forum (SUF) aims to be the strategic voice of users of official statistics. The Forum acts as an umbrella organisation for user groups, each of which covers a particular area across the spectrum of official statistics. Through the Forum we enable open and constructive dialogue between users and producers of official statistics and encourage communication across the user community.

The impact of government cuts on statistics

27-09-2012 11:34

A draft report by Radical Statistics.

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27-09-2012 12:15

RadStats has collected evidence on aspects of the statistics and analysis function within Whitehall and local government, which is useful even if the account misses changes to the quasi-government area (for example the loss of analytical capacity from the abolition of the Audit Commission). The account is Anglocentric, and things may be different in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Puzzling, given RadStats' record, is the absence of perspective and explanation for what the Cameron government has done.
This is a government whose stated intention is to downsize the state. It is exploiting a fiscal emergency (the definition and calibration of which it has exaggerated) to carry strong neo-Thatcherite ambitions to diminish welfare and other collective provision (Toynbee and Walker, 2012).
Does such a government want to KNOW more or less? In theory, the determination to reduce the state might make ministers more avid for knowledge, for example about social effects (relevant in an electoral calculus, perhaps).
But if, as seems to be the case, the government actively DOES NOT WANT to know, that requires explanation, though we mustn't exaggerate the extent of cuts in the collection of statistics so far. The RadStats' evidence suggests that, at worse, input into statistical work has retreated to the levels of 2006/7 and output reductions are, so far, small.
A government might not want to know if it did not care about the effects of its policies or because it believed 'ignorance' was conducive to its purposes. There is some evidence for the latter proposition, from statements before and after the election by Cabinet Office minister Frances Maude and policy coordinator Oliver Letwin (references in the work cited). Maude has even welcomed 'anarchy' in public policy, for which lack of knowledge might be a precondition.
Ref: Toynbee, P and Walker, D Dogma and Disarray, Cameron at Half Time, Granta 2012