show image

ONS is on the hunt for digital natives to help transform ageing data analytics tools

The Office for National Statistics is hiring six data analytics apprentices in a bid to transform the way it measures our economy after harsh criticism from a former deputy governor of the Bank of England.

In the conclusion of his independent inquiry, Charlie Bean said that the “current statistics are showing their age having being designed over fifty years ago when the economy was dominated by goods not services”.

The likes of Amazon, Skype, Airbnb and TaskRabbit were all held up as being part of “digital revolution and fast technological advancements of recent years, [that] have changed the way many businesses operate”.

Of course, while not only being more difficult to measure, those services haven’t been roundly praised for making a great contribution to the economy.

Bean added:

“There is also a need for culture change in ONS, to bolster economic capability and place users’ needs at the heart of everything it does. ONS needs to be innovative enough to produce the statistics we need for the future.”

On this, the organisation is now making headway, by starting its hunt for six apprentices who will be collecting, organising and studying data in order to “improve business performance”.

That data science work will cover five areas, with the ‘modern economy’, featuring hat-tilts to Airbnb and Uber, topping the list of key areas ripe for analysis.

It also includes our ‘urban future’ and globalisation as part of the ‘UK in a global context’.

The two-year work training programme pays upwards of £21,500 and requires only relevant A Level qualifications to apply.

The apprentices will largely be based at the ONS’ new Data Science Campus, which will open at the organisation’s HQ in Newport, Wales, later this year.

This £17 million initiative was launched alongside an Economics Centre of Excellence just after Bean’s report went live, but the Newport base was criticised by the exec for taking focus away from London.

Bean was commissioned by the former Chancellor George Osborne to take a wide look at the state of UK data and also recommended:

  • address established statistical limitations
  • become more agile in the provision of statistics that properly reflect the changing structure and characteristics of the economy.
  • make the most of existing and new data sources and the technologies for dealing with them
  • become better at understanding and interrogating data
  • strengthen the governance framework so as to help support the production of high-quality economic statistics

Obviously, hiring six noobs is only a very small part of truly transforming the way government does data.

Handily, just prior to the publication of Bean’s report, the Cabinet Office concluded its own consultation into Better Use of Data in Government.

This looked at giving the ONS more access to government data, as well as gathering public evidence on using data to improve services, and reduce private debt and fraud.

Most of the respondents were supportive of the consultation’s aims but said that the government needs to “ensure appropriate safeguards, accountability and transparency are in place to build trust with citizens on the usage of their data”.

This whole effort is part of the Conservative’s programme for ‘central government efficiency‘, which, if unaccountable, could become synonymous with ‘doing austerity using digital’.