LARIA represents a range of different local researchers: in particular local government, NHS, police, fire and rescue services, private sector and individual freelance and academic researchers. We have 700 individual members and over 119 corporate member organisations. A full list of our corporate members is available on our website. The views expressed in this letter are on behalf of LARIA members. We have engaged with our members through inviting them to attend a workshop discussing your consultation (held on 22nd October 2013) and to take part in discussions online. We have also encouraged them to individually respond to your online consultation questionnaire with specific points relevant to their organisation and their own work. This submission on behalf of LARIA, in the form of a letter, therefore aims to identify general issues of relevance to all our members.
We have identified four areas we wish to raise:
1 – The local research ecosystem
ONS statistical products are often used by a whole range of individuals and small local organisations. These include local ward or parish councillors, charities and regeneration areas. These users often contact their local authority for help in accessing ONS products or to access their local analysis: such as providing a local profile. The local authority may draw down the data but this then feeds out into a broad ecosystem of local research needs. An example is that the Big Lottery fund often requires a local profile for its work based on ONS data included in this consultation. It is difficult to put an estimate on the number of local organisations and individuals that access ONS data in this way. However, a conservative estimate would be for at least one request a week. This may not sound huge but with over 400 local authorities over a 52 week period this estimates demand at over 20,000 requests. Taking away these datasets could undermine the work of a rich network of local organisations: many of which we suspect have not responded to your consultation as they are not aware of the products that feed into the analysis they see.
The use of the data is also vitally important. Many of the requests relate to the most deprived areas. The data is used to identify and tackle inequalities. Therefore many of the health related datasets in particular are vital in serving this need. Key sources of information include (in alphabetical order):
- Bi-annual local enterprise partnership profiles
- Childhood, Infant and Perinatal Mortality
- General Lifestyle Reports
- Integrated Household Survey core questions on Living Costs and Food Survey
- Local profiles
- Small area income and poverty measures – please note this is essential information requested by Ofsted
- Statistical bulletin on Alcohol-related deaths in the UK
- UK Business Output
Please note that these are only the products we have managed to identify within our discussions as particularly useful for local organisations and individuals. We are sure many of the other products are used by our members and LARIA does not wish to give feedback that is interpreted as suggesting any of those products should cease. That judgement, if reached, should only be drawn by the ONS from the other consultation responses received.
2 – Small area data
Our members are very concerned at any attempt to remove access to small area data. We require as much granularity to the data as possible. The more that statistics are reliable at a small area the more likely we are to be able to identify and tackle issues of inequality.
3 – Shifting costs
The savings within the consultation may be achieved by ONS but this may transfer cost to other bodies. For example stopping the UK Business output may save ONS £10,000 but we estimate that to buy this commercially for one local area would cost £5,000. Therefore across the UK this could potentially lead to up to a £2,000,000 cost just on the basis of local authority need. We also doubt that local authorities would be allowed to share this data with other local organisations as they currently do, so the cost would be likely to increase.
4 – Communicating findings
The key area for savings we feel is in terms of how the findings are communicated. We note a number of bulletins within the consultation estimated at between £10K-£50K and other reports. We feel that ONS should consider commissioning reports/bulletins around themes or areas of policy rather than individual statistical products. This could be commissioned within ONS but also from universities, the private sector or individual LARIA members. NESTA have undertaken a similar approach with a bidding process to write reports on their behalf, rather than rely on internal staff. This approach would enable the ONS to not only drive down the cost but ensure that the format and analysis of the report meets local policy needs.
We also request that the ONS looks to improve its website and access to raw datasets. Some of our members were not aware of some of the datasets the ONS produces until they saw them listed in your consultation. A simple list/register of all your products with a link to the raw data and key outputs would be a very effective way to increase use of your products.
We do hope that our comments are useful for your consultation. We would like to thank the ONS for the opportunity to take part in this consultation rather than simply cease to produce certain products. Over the years we have found the ONS to be very supportive of the work that LARIA and its members do and we look forward to this positive relationship continuing.
Photo credit: Newport, Pembrokeshire, Wales taken by plutchak