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Introduction

After six months of parliamentary scrutiny, the Statistics and Registration Service Bill received Royal Assent on 26 July 2007. A link to an electronic copy of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 (the Act) along with its Explanatory Note is available from the Office of Public Sector Information website.

Overall effect of the Act

The Act is mainly concerned with the structure of the organisations that will deliver the future statistics and registration services. It extends to the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and creates an independent Statistics Authority, as a Non-Ministerial Department (NMD) accountable to Parliament, whose objective is to promote and safeguard:

  • the production and publication of official statistics that serve the public good, and
  • the quality, good practice and comprehensiveness of official statistics

This new organisation replaces the current Statistics Commission and Office for National Statistics.

The legislation does not alter the basic structure for statistical production in the UK, where ONS (as part of the new Statistics Board) will retain its position as the UK's National Statistics Institute (NSI), and policy departments will retain responsibility for all those statistical outputs which cover their own areas of responsibility. Such a system maintains statistical expertise across government and keeps statisticians close to their data suppliers and customers, thus gaining a better understanding of their data.

Main Function of the Statistics Authority

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Monitoring and reporting on all official statistics.

The Authority is required to monitor, and may report on, all official statistics (wherever produced), whether or not they are 'National Statistics'.

Independent assessment of key statistics.

The Authority will be required to prepare and publish a Code of Practice, where it will be required to independently assess the quality and integrity of key statistics (both produced in ONS and across government departments) for formal approval as 'National Statistics'.

Oversight of the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The Authority will provide the top level of governance for what is currently ONS, replacing the Treasury ministers' oversight role. Consequently, the Authority has a statutory power to produce statistics.

Key posts established by the legislation

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The Authority Board's membership - the Chair, at least five other non-executive members (some appointed after consultation with the devolved administrations), the National Statistician and two other executive members.

The National Statistician - a full member of the Board responsible for the work of the current ONS, reporting to the Board (not ministers), and will be the Board's chief professional statistical adviser and Chief Executive.

The Head of Assessment - the Board's principal adviser on assessment.

Other issues covered by the Act

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Pre-release access arrangements

Details of pre-release arrangements will be set out in secondary legislation, and the Statistics Authority will assess departmental adherence to them as part of its assessment against the Code of Practice.

Confidentiality

The Act states that information relating to, or identifying, a particular person or business held or disclosed by the Statistics Authority is confidential. It should not be disclosed by anyone and any unlawful disclosure is a criminal offence punishable by a fine or imprisonment.

Data Sharing

The Act contains powers to allow information sharing between public authorities and the Statistics Authority where this is for statistical purposes only. All proposals to allow such sharing will be agreed by ministers, enacted through secondary legislation and be subject to further scrutiny and approval by Parliament. In addition, the Act ensures that current data flows can continue.

Registration Service

The registration functions currently undertaken by ONS (given the National Statistician's role as Registrar General for England and Wales) will not be part of the responsibilities of the new Statistics Authority, and will be retained under ministerial responsibility.

Employment Status of Staff

The Act states that all employees of the Statistics Authority will be civil servants. It also includes provisions to establish proper employment status and rights for Registrars in England and Wales as local authority employees, giving them access to employment tribunals for the first time.

'Sponsor Department'

The Cabinet Office has taken over HM Treasury's past responsibilities in those circumstances where the Statistics Authority still needs a route in to Parliament, for example when progressing secondary legislation and answering PQs.

Other parts of ONS not covered by the new Act

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The General Register Office (GRO) and the National Health Service Central Register (NHSCR), which are currently based in ONS, have functions that are distinct from those envisaged for the Statistics Statistics Authority. In addition, the work of GRO requires Ministerial input which does not sit well with the status of the Statistics Authority as a non-Ministerial department. It has been agreed, therefore, that the NHSCR will transfer to the NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care (IC) and the GRO will transfer to the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) which is an Executive Agency of the Home Office.

This page last updated: Monday, 7 April 2008

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