Scotland's Data Desert: The case for a Scottish Statistics Agency

The paper has been welcomed by the former Scottish Office Chief Statistician, Jim Cuthbert

ESTABLISHING an independent Scottish Statistics Agency (SSA) could provide a significant boost to the economic management of the country, a report published by Common Weal has argued.

‘Scotland’s Data Desert: The Case for a Scottish Statistics Agency’ is authored by Common Weal head of research Dr Craig Dalzell, and can be read in full here.

While Scotland has better data provision than the UK as a whole, it lags far behind comparable European countries. The gap in Scotland’s data provision is one of the leading causes for the annual controversy surrounding the GERS statistics, which serve as an estimation of Scotland’s finances within the United Kingdom.

However, the report argues, “Regardless of Scotland’s constitutional arrangements… it should be universally recognised that better data can be used to produce better government policy and to better monitor policy as it is implemented”. The enhanced data could allow the Government to better target income tax and other ways to raise money while the SSA could create hundreds of high paid jobs, granting a boost to Scotland’s economy.

“it is absolutely right that Dr Dalzell’s welcome paper makes the case for a Scottish Statistics Agency. It is also right that the paper does not draw firm conclusions about how such an SSA should be structured, but sets out options.” Jim Cuthbert

The paper also states that better and more transparent data, placed into the public domain, could enable the Scottish Government to benefit from “specialist groups” who might otherwise be locked out of decision making, such as think-tanks and academic researchers.

An SSA could, moreover, solidify and expand a Code of Practice “kitemark” to indicate whether data meets the standards required for policy making, especially where third parties are involved in data gathering. It is expected that the standardisation of data provision from the Statistics Agency would increase public trust in the data, leaving less room for manipulation when it comes to important political, and constitutional debates.

Jim Cuthbert, former Scottish Office Chief Statistician said:

"There is a real need to review the arrangements for providing official statistics in Scotland, particularly given:

- The data requirements for the operation of the new fiscal settlement, and the absolute priority under that settlement for the Scottish Government to manage the economy so as to achieve optimal economic performance.

- The need to overcome the fragmentation of statistics as government relies increasingly on agencies and other bodies to deliver public services. 

- Not to mention the potential for further constitutional change, and the statistical requirements that would pose.

It is therefore absolutely right that Dr Dalzell’s welcome paper makes the case for a Scottish Statistics Agency. It is also right that the paper does not draw firm conclusions about how such an SSA should be structured, but sets out options. What is needed now is an active debate on how statistics in Scotland should be organised in a changing, and challenging, world."

“Good data underpins and drives effective policy so it is vital that Scotland makes the most of this resource in order to strengthen and enrich our society and our economy.” Dr Craig Dalzell

Craig Dalzell, Head of Research for Common Weal said:

"We live in an ever more data-rich environment and the data we gather and hold about ourselves is becoming ever more valuable to policy-makers. Good data underpins and drives effective policy so it is vital that Scotland makes the most of this resource in order to strengthen and enrich our society and our economy. It is also vital that we be transparent and make as much of this data as open and accessible as possible so that the government can be scrutinised, aided and, where required, held to account."

Comments

John Stuart Wilson

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 14:28

There is no GERS controversy. The 2014 Independence White Paper accepted GERS as the definitive statement of Scotland's public finances; Alex Salmond even name-checked GERS during the debate with Alistair Darling as the last word on a contended point.

That report that the current FM put out a few weeks ago? It depends on GERS, with no quibbles.

GERS is already an independent product of the SG. It says right at the top that "The Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) web area provides information on the annually published GERS report. GERS is compiled by statisticians and economists in the Office of the Chief Economic Adviser of the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government's Chief Statistician takes responsibility for this publication."

The only "problem" with GERS is that they expose the fact that the original case for independence was based entirely on oil.

Spare us, please, from more pronouncements from amateur economists telling professional economists how to do their jobs.

MauriceBishop

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 16:15

How amazing that the separatist movement didn't notice that the professionals in the SG's existing statistics agency are doing it all wrong until after the price of oil dropped!

Seriously, this obsession with wishing away GERS - the thing that was the basis of the Yes campaign's economic arguments in 2014 - is simply embarrassing.

Here is a link to the process for actually participating in the ongoing process of refining the methodology. Perhaps your amateur enthusiasm would be better directed there.
http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Economy/GERS/GERSConsultations

Autism Rights's picture

Autism Rights

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 15:58

dearie me, the only interest those in the political classes have in statistics, government or otherwise, is GERS and in economic statistics.

As the person who was the first to ask how many dead bodies the mental health system produces each year in Scotland, and who is well aware that Scotland's statistics are anything but `world leading`, I find the whole ding-dong between amateur and professional politicians deeply depressing and utterly pathetic.

By the by, NOT A SINGLE ORGANISATION deigns to publish the very basic data on deaths in the mental health system. Suicide stats are published, but are for the whole of Scotland and separate figures for the mental health system are not published. Given that the current Mental Health Act permits the forced drugging of people with disabilities - those with autism and learning disabilities - simply for being disabled, rather than for any perceived `mental illness`, I would hope that readers can draw the appropriate conclusions about human rights in Scotland.

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