Office for National Statistics

Last updated

Office for National Statistics logo.svg
Agency overview
Formed1 April 1996;24 years ago (1996-04-01)
Preceding agencies
  • Central Statistical Office
  • Office of Population Censuses and Surveys
Type Non-ministerial government department
JurisdictionUnited Kingdom
HeadquartersGovernment Buildings, Cardiff Road, Newport NP10 8XG
51°33′58.89″N3°1′38″W / 51.5663583°N 3.02722°W / 51.5663583; -3.02722
Employees3,302 (including UK Statistics Authority)
Annual budget£206.5 million (2009–2010) [1] (including UK Statistics Authority)
Agency executive
Parent agency UK Statistics Authority

The Office for National Statistics (ONS; Welsh : Swyddfa Ystadegau Gwladol) is the executive office of the UK Statistics Authority, a non-ministerial department which reports directly to the UK Parliament.



The ONS is responsible for the collection and publication of statistics related to the economy, population and society of the UK; responsibility for some areas of statistics in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales is devolved to the devolved governments for those areas. The ONS functions as the executive office of the National Statistician, who is also the UK Statistics Authority's Chief Executive and principal statistical adviser to the UK's National Statistics Institute, [note 1] and the 'Head Office' of the Government Statistical Service (GSS). Its main office is in Newport near the United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office and Tredegar House, but another significant office is in Titchfield in Hampshire, and a small office is in London. ONS co-ordinates data collection with the respective bodies in Northern Ireland and Scotland, namely NISRA and NRS.


The ONS was formed on 1 April 1996 by the merger of the Central Statistical Office (CSO) and the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys (OPCS). [2] Following the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007, the United Kingdom Statistics Authority became a non-ministerial department on 1 April 2008. [3]

Purpose and scope

ONS produces and publishes a wide range of the information about the United Kingdom that can be used for social and economic policy-making as well as painting a portrait of the country as its population evolves over time. This is often produced in ways that make comparison with other societies and economies possible. Much of the data on which policy-makers depend is produced by ONS through a combination of a decennial population census, samples and surveys and analysis of data generated by businesses and organisations such as the National Health Service and the register of births, marriages and deaths. Its publications, and analyses by other users based on its published data, are reported and discussed daily in the media as the basis for the public understanding of the country in which they live.

Applications of data

The reliance on some of these data by government (both local and national) makes ONS material central to debates about the determination of priorities, the allocation of resources and for decisions on interest rates or borrowing. The complexity and degree and speed of change in the society, combined with the challenge of measuring some of these (e.g. in relation to longevity, migration or illness patterns or fine movements in inflation or other aspects of national accounts) give rise to periodic debates about some of its indicators and portrayals. Many of these rely on sources which are outside ONS, while some of its own sources need to be supplemented, for example between censuses, by updated but less rigorously obtained information from other sources. Consequently, unexpected or incomplete data or occasional errors or disputes about its analysis can also attract considerable attention.

ONS data can also be used in epidemiologic studies such as survival analysis.


Gordon Brown, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced on 28 November 2005, [4] that the government intended to publish plans in early 2006 to legislate that the ONS and the statistics it generates are independent of government on a model based on the independence of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. [5] This was originally a 1997 Labour manifesto commitment [6] and was also the policy of the Liberal Democrat [7] and Conservative [8] parties. Such independence was also sought by the Royal Statistical Society [9] and the Statistics Commission. [10] The National Statistician would be directly accountable to Parliament through a more widely constituted independent governing Statistics Board. [11] The ONS would be a non-ministerial government department so that the staff, including the Director, would remain as civil servants but without being under direct ministerial control. [12] The then National Statistician, Dame Karen Dunnell, stated that legislation would help improve public trust in official statistics [13] (although the ONS already acted independently, as per its own published guidelines, the National Statistics Code of Practice, [14] which set out the key principles and standards that official statisticians, including those in other parts of the government statistical service, were expected to follow and uphold).

The details of the plans for independence were considered in Parliament during the 2006/2007 session and resulted in the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007. [15] In July 2007, Sir Michael Scholar was nominated by the government to be the three-day-a-week non-executive chairman of the Statistics Board which, with the intention of re-establishing faith in the integrity of government statistics, was to take on statutory responsibility for oversight of UK statistics in April 2008 and oversee the Office for National Statistics; also having a duty to assess all UK government statistics. Following Gordon Brown's announcement of new constitutional arrangements for public appointments, Sir Michael also became, on 18 July, the first such nominee to appear before the House of Commons Treasury Committee and to have his nomination subject to confirmation by the House. [16] On 7 February 2008, following the first meeting of the shadow board, it was announced that it would be known as the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA).

In 2012, Andrew Dilnot replaced Michael Scholar as chairman of the Authority.

Heads of the Office and the National Statistician

Since its establishment, ONS has had five Directors: Professor Tim Holt; Len Cook; Karen Dunnell; Jil Matheson; and, from October 2012, Glen Watson. Len Cook was the first Director to hold the newly created role of National Statistician. The roles of Director of ONS and National Statistician were combined until 2012 when Jil Matheson continued as National Statistician while Glen Watson became Director of the ONS. John Pullinger replaced Jil Matheson as National Statistician (and Chief Executive of the UK Statistics Authority) in July 2014. Pullinger retired in June 2019 and in October 2019 Professor Sir Ian Diamond assumed the role of National Statistician.


The work of the ONS covers the collection of data and the analysis and publication of statistics covering the economy, population, and society of the UK.

Where data is broken down by geographical area, this is usually done by the areas defined in the ONS geographical coding system.

Data collection

The principal areas of data collection include:

Statisticians are also employed by many other Government departments and agencies, and these statisticians often collect and publish data. They are members of the Government Statistical Service and are the professional responsibility of the head of the service, who is also the National Statistician. Each department has a statistical service Head of Profession. For example, data on Agriculture, Fishing and Forestry comes primarily from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Along with economic data on which the Treasury and Bank of England rely for decision-making, many of the statistics that receive widespread media attention are issued by the Home Office, the Department of Health, and the Department for Education and Skills. ONS is also responsible for the maintenance of the Inter-Departmental Business Register and the Business Structure Database. [17]

Former departments

Before the establishment of the UK Statistics Authority, the statistical work of ONS, since June 2000, was scrutinised by the Statistics Commission, an independent body with its own chairman and small staff. This ceased to operate from 1 April 2008. The General Register Office and the post of Registrar-General for England & Wales ceased to be part of ONS from that date but remains subject to ministerial accountability within the Home Office.

The Blue Book

The annual United Kingdom National Accounts are published in an online publication (The Blue Book [18] ) by the Office for National Statistics. It records and describes economic activity in the United Kingdom and as such is used by government, banks, academics and industries to formulate the economic and social policies and monitor the economic progress of the United Kingdom. It also allows international comparisons to be made. The Blue Book is published alongside the United Kingdom Balance of Payments – The Pink Book. [19]

Education of statisticians

The Office for National Statistics collaborates with the University of Southampton in the teaching of an MSc in Official Statistics; the programme has been running since 2003. [20]

Virtual Microdata Laboratory

The Virtual Microdata Laboratory (VML) was established in 2004 to allow researchers access to business data. [21] It is a secure facility within the Office for National Statistics where both government officials and academic researchers can analyse sensitive, detailed data for statistical purposes. [22] The researchers cannot download the data or take any copies out of the laboratory and the results of the analysis is checked for statistical disclosure.

Office locations

The ONS has a head office in the city of Newport, Wales, and other offices in Pimlico in London and Titchfield in Hampshire. [23] The Family Records Centre in Myddelton Street in Islington, London, moved to the National Archives in Kew in 2008. [24] They also have an Archive Storage site located in Christchurch, Dorset. [25]

Former headquarters

The London (Pimlico) office was the head office until April 2006 when the corporate headquarters was moved to Newport [26] following the Lyons Review [27] on public sector relocation. Since May 2011 the London office has been located on the 2nd floor of the former Drummond Gate headquarters and houses the methodology consultancy service, the virtual microdata laboratory and media briefings. [28]

Gradual move of functions to South Wales

The ONS asserted that recruitment and training of quality staff in South Wales, where data collection and analysis already took place, would ensure that there was no risk to the quality of its services and that it managed the risks associated with the changes. [29] However the plan to discontinue statistical activity in London proved controversial amid claims that the shift of functions from London and the closure of the London office would have serious implications for the future of certain sets of statistics. These include health statistics, National Accounts, Retail and Consumer Prices and Labour Market Statistics. These risks were stated to derive from the fact that few of the experienced staff working in these highly technical areas were expected to relocate to Newport, resulting in a substantial loss of expertise and a consequent threat to the continued quality of the statistics. [30] In a submission to the Parliamentary Treasury Sub Committee, the Bank of England expressed concern over the relocation of the ONS to Newport, saying, that "the relocation programme poses serious risks to the maintenance of the quality of macroeconomic data. If substantial numbers of ONS staff are unwilling to relocate, the loss of skilled individuals could have a severe impact on a range of statistics." [31] [32] The director of ONS at the time vigorously defended the implementation of government policy on civil service relocation and the decision to concentrate staff in the three locations outside London. [33]

Criticism of the ONS

The Office for National Statistics won the 2004 Big Brother Award for the "Most Heinous Government Organisation" from the campaigning organisation Privacy International for its Citizen Information Project. [34] The project is one of several that lead the Information Commissioner to warn that there is a danger of the country "sleepwalking" into a surveillance society. [35]

In December 2012 the organisation's new website to provide statistics to the public was described as "a disaster" by members of parliament on the Public Administration Committee. [36] The chair of the UK Statistics Authority said that significant improvements to the website were being made, but admitted that its state at the time made it "difficult to use, difficult to navigate and difficult to search". [37]

In 2016, Professor Sir Charles Bean conducted an independent review of UK Economic Statistics. He notes that although there is much criticism of the ONS’s performance, particularly of the size and frequency of revisions, that this criticism is “not entirely justified”. [38] Following the review, the then-Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, Andrew Tyrie, criticised the ONS for being “out of touch”. [39]

In 2019, the ONS admitted that EU migration to the UK may have been underestimated due to methodology of the International Passenger Survey. [40]

See also


  1. 'National Statistics Institute' and NSI are a standard expression and its acronym used about statistical services in OECD & EU terminology.

Related Research Articles

In the United Kingdom, non-departmental public body (NDPB) is a classification applied by the Cabinet Office, Treasury, the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to public sector organisations that have a role in the process of national government but are not part of a government department. NDPBs carry out their work largely independently from ministers and are accountable to the public through the Parliament; however, ministers are responsible for the independence, effectiveness and efficiency of non-departmental public bodies in their portfolio.

Departments of the Government of the United Kingdom

The departments of the Government of the United Kingdom are the principal units through which it exercises executive authority. A department is composed of employed officials, known as civil servants, and is politically accountable through a minister. Most major departments are headed by a secretary of state, who sits in the cabinet, and typically supported by a team of junior ministers.

In the United Kingdom, the Retail Prices Index or Retail Price Index (RPI) is a measure of inflation published monthly by the Office for National Statistics. It measures the change in the cost of a representative sample of retail goods and services.

Karen Dunnell British national statistician

Dame Karen Hope Dunnell, DCB, FAcSS is a British medical sociologist and civil servant. She was National Statistician and Chief Executive of the Office for National Statistics of the United Kingdom and head of the Government Statistical Service from 1 September 2005 until retiring on 28 August 2009. Since its inception in 2008, she was also the Chief Executive of the UK Statistics Authority. She now has a range of non-executive roles including membership of Pricewaterhouse Coopers Public Interest Body, Trustee of National Heart Forum, member of the Court of Governors, University of Westminster.

Leonard Warren Cook CBE is a professional statistician who was Government Statistician of New Zealand from 1992 to 2000, and National Statistician and Director of the United Kingdom Office for National Statistics, and Registrar General for England and Wales from 2000 to 2005. He served as Families Commissioner in New Zealand from 2015 to 2018.

The Statistics Commission was a non-departmental public body established in June 2000 by the UK Government to oversee the work of the Office for National Statistics. Its chairman was Professor David Rhind who succeeded the first chairman, Sir John Kingman, in May 2003. Although it was non-departmental, the commission was funded by grant-in-aid from the Treasury. Following the implementation of the Statistics & Registration Services Act 2007, the commission was abolished. Its functions were to be taken over and considerably enhanced by the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), whose powers began on 1 April 2008 under the chairmanship of Sir Michael Scholar. Professor Rhind is among the non-executive members of the new authority, to which the ONS is accountable. This contrasts with the duties of the previous Commission which were limited to reporting, observing and criticizing ONS while it, until 2008, has been publicly accountable via a Treasury minister.

Philippine Statistics Authority

The Philippine Statistics Authority, abbreviated as PSA, is the central statistical authority of the Philippine government that collects, compiles, analyzes and publishes statistical information on economic, social, demographic, political affairs and general affairs of the people of the Philippines and enforces the civil registration functions in the country.

The National Statistician is the Chief Executive of the UK Statistics Authority, and the Head of the UK Government Statistical Service.

Australian Bureau of Statistics Federal statistics and census agency of the Australian Government

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is the independent statutory agency of the Australian Government responsible for statistical collection and analysis, and for giving evidence-based advice to federal, state and territory governments. The ABS collects and analyses statistics on economic, population, environmental and social issues, publishing many on their website. The ABS also operates the national Census of Population and Housing that occurs every five years.

Sir Harry Campion, KCB, CBE was a British statistician and the first director of what was the Central Statistical Office of the United Kingdom. He was also first director of the United Nations Statistical Office. He played a leading role in the development of official statistics, nationally and internationally, after the Second World War.

Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 United Kingdom legislation

The Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which established the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA). It came into force in April 2008. Sir Michael Scholar was appointed as the first Chair of the UKSA.

The UK Statistics Authority is a non-ministerial government department of the Government of the United Kingdom responsible for oversight of the Office for National Statistics, maintaining a national code of practice for official statistics, and accrediting statistics that comply with the Code as National Statistics. UKSA was established on 1 April 2008 by the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007, and is directly accountable to the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

2011 United Kingdom census 2011 census of the population of the United Kingdom

A census of the population of the United Kingdom is taken every ten years. The 2011 census was held in all countries of the UK on 27 March 2011. It was the first UK census which could be completed online via the Internet. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is responsible for the census in England and Wales, the General Register Office for Scotland (GROS) is responsible for the census in Scotland, and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) is responsible for the census in Northern Ireland.

Dame Jilian Norma Matheson is the former National Statistician of the United Kingdom.

Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) is an annual estimate of the Scottish economy as part of the United Kingdom. It was first published in 1992, and yearly since 1995, with the exceptions of 2007 where there was no report due to a methodology review, and 2016 where there were two annual reports due to an acceleration of publishing timescale.

Beyond 2011 also known as The Beyond 2011 Programme is a project initiated by the UK Statistics Authority to look at the alternatives to running a Census in 2021. In 2008 UK Government Treasury Select Committee had expressed concerns about the increasing cost of running the census and inaccuracies in data gathered only every ten years. In 2010 the newly elected coalition government reiterated such concerns responding to a report by the UK Statistics Authority.

John James Pullinger was the National Statistician for the United Kingdom, serving in this role from 1 July 2014 until retiring on 30 June 2019. He was succeeded on an interim basis by Deputy National Statistician Jonathan Athow, and by Sir Ian Diamond on a permanent basis from October 2019.

2021 United Kingdom census

On 21 March 2021, the decennial 2021 United Kingdom census, called Census 2021, will occur throughout most of the United Kingdom. The census in Scotland will take place in 2022, known as Scotland's Census 2022. It will be administered by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in England and Wales, by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency in Northern Ireland, and by the National Records of Scotland in Scotland. Census 2021 will be the first British census to collect most data online, and the ONS has confirmed that the census will go ahead despite the COVID-19 pandemic, in part because the information obtained will assist government and public understanding of the pandemic's impact. However, enumeration in Scotland will take place one year later than the rest of the United Kingdom, the plans for it having been delayed because of the pandemic.

The Government Statistical Service (GSS) is the community of all civil servants in the United Kingdom who work in the collection, production and communication of official statistics. It includes not only statisticians, but also economists, social researchers, IT professionals, and secretarial and clerical staff. Members of the GSS work in the Office for National Statistics, most UK Government departments, and the devolved administrations. The GSS publishes around 2,000 sets of statistics each year, as well as providing professional advice and analysis to decision-makers.

The Five Safes is a framework for helping make decisions about making effective use of data which is confidential or sensitive. It is mainly used to describe or design research access to statistical data held by government agencies, and by data archives such as the UK Data Service.


  1. UK Statistics Authority Resource Accounts 2009–2010, UK Statistics Authority, 26 July 2010, retrieved 19 December 2010
  2. John Pullinger (1997) "The Creation of the Office for National Statistics", International Statistical Review, Vol. 65, No. 3, pp. 291–308
  3. The Statistics Act: Office for National Statistics Archived 21 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  4. Statement to the House of Commons on the review of the Framework for National Statistics, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, 28 November 2005.
  5. Budget Statement Archived 25 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, 22 March 2006
  6. Labour Party Manifesto, General Election 1997 Archived 16 August 2000 at the Wayback Machine , Keele University website.
  7. Liberal Democrats Manifesto General Election 2005 Archived 30 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine .
  8. "Let Parliament appoint new UK statistics chief" Archived 12 January 2006 at the Wayback Machine , press release from Conservative Party website.
  9. "A Vision for National Statistics", Royal Statistical Society.
  10. "Legislation to build trust in statistics", a report by the Statistics Commission.
  11. "Statistics And Registration Service Bill", House of Commons Explanatory Note to the Bill, para. 7–8. Retrieved 10 June 2007.
  12. "Statistics And Registration Service Bill", House of Commons Explanatory Note to the Bill, para. 42. Retrieved 10 June 2007.
  13. "National Statistician welcomes Statistics and Registration Service Bill" Archived 30 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine , news release from ONS website.
  14. "National Statistics Code of Practice" ONS website
  15. "Statistics and Registration Service Bill", progress of the Bill through the UK Parliament from Parliament website.
  16. "Whitehall veteran in frame for statistics chief post", Financial Times, 18 July 2007.
  17. "Executive Summary UK Company Statistics Reconciliation Project" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 June 2009. Retrieved 27 February 2014.
  18. "United Kingdom National Accounts – The Blue Book".
  19. "The United Kingdom Balance of Payments – The Pink Book".
  20. "MSc in Official Statistics, University of Southampton". Retrieved 27 February 2014.
  21. Welpton, Richard. "Virtual Microdata Laboratory – Access to Confidential Data" (PDF).
  22. "Virtual Microdata Laboratory". Office for National Statistics.
  23. Office for National Statistics: location maps, Retrieved 22 December 2017.
  24. "Page Not Found – The National Archives". Archived from the original on 7 January 2020. Retrieved 23 April 2020.Cite uses generic title (help)
  25. UK Government properties database, Retrieved 7 June 2014
  26. "Newport to be ONS headquarters" Archived 30 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine , National Statistics news release, 20 September 2004. Retrieved 9 June 2007.
  27. "The Lyons Review: Independent Review of public sector relocation" Archived 27 February 2006 at the Wayback Machine , HM Treasury website.
  28. ONS moves to new London office, ONS press release, 16 May 2011.
  29. "Stats staff 'quitting' over move", news report from the BBC website, 14 May 2007.
  30. Debate on the Statistics and Registration Service Bill in the House of Lords, 24 April 2007, Hansard, Column 597.
  31. "Bank of England comments on recent ONS performance", a submission made by the Bank of England to the Treasury Sub-Committee inquiry into progress on the efficiency programme in the Chancellor's departments, May 2007.
  32. "Bank warns on ONS move to Wales", news report from the BBC website, 10 May 2007.
  33. "Statistics officers get the measure of relocation", article by Karen Dunnell, Financial Times, 4 June 2007. Retrieved 7 June 2007.
  34. Travis, Alan; editor, home affairs (18 April 2006). "'Big Brother' scheme axed" via The Guardian.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  35. "Beware rise of Big Brother state, warns data watchdog", The Times, 16 August 2004.
  36. Lowther, Ed (13 December 2012). "ONS website under fire from MPs" . Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  37. Parnell, Brid-Aine (13 December 2012). "Shiny new stats website a 'disaster' – MPs". The Register. Archived from the original on 16 February 2013. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
  38. Bean, Charles. Independent Review of UK Economic Statistics(PDF): 4 or empty |title= (help)
  39. Allen, Katie (8 January 2016). "Andrew Tyrie blasts 'out of touch' Office for National Statistics". The Guardian. ISSN   0261-3077 . Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  40. "EU migration to UK 'underestimated'". 21 August 2019. Retrieved 5 October 2019.