Speech by MoS Murphy at the launch of the NSB Strategy

 

***Check Against Delivery***

Introduction

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to be here this morning, in the beautiful surrounds of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, to mark the launch of the National Statistics Board’s strategic priorities for official statistics 2015-2020 – ‘A World Class Statistical System for Ireland’.

I would like to thank Dr. Patricia O’Hara for the kind invitation to address you. I would also like to extend a very warm welcome to your two distinguished speakers this morning - Mr Jørgen Elmeskov, Director General of Statistics Denmark, and Professor Rob Kitchen of Maynooth University.

I’m very pleased to have both Professor Kitchen and Dr. O’Hara as members of the Government Data Forum. I recently established the Forum as an advisory group to examine the societal implications of greater generation and use of data and to contribute to dialogue and debate in this area.  

Role of the National Statistics Board

It is worth reflecting at the outset on the role of the National Statistics Board.

The board was established nearly 30 years ago and was subsequently put on a statutory footing under the Statistics Act 1993.

The role of the Board, as set out in the legislation, is to guide with the agreement of the Taoiseach the strategic direction of the Central Statistics Office and, in particular, to establish priorities for the development of official statistics in Ireland.

The board includes representation from users of official statistics, and provides an independent voice on the priorities for the development of the official statistics in Ireland.

The Importance of Robust Data

The economic crisis in recent years has reinforced for all of us the importance of a robust system of official statistics.

High quality statistical information is of vital importance if we are to effectively monitor economic and social progress.

This information and data provides us with an essential basis for effective policy planning and decision-making in this country.

Without it, we would not be able to plan public investment in schools, hospitals or infrastructure, or monitor the effectiveness of public policy initiatives.

Official statistics also provide us with many useful insights into the impact of the economic downturn and the process of recovery by tracking for instance,

-      unemployment and job seekers;

-      average weekly earnings;

-      educational attainment;

-      the economic significance of different sectors of the economy;

-      and the number of people at risk of poverty.

This type of information gives policy-makers and ordinary citizens independent, objective and accessible information about the economic and social fortunes of our country. 

As the NSB points out, it became evident during the financial crisis that there were a number of critical information deficits in official statistics, notwithstanding the quality and depth of the information provided by the CSO.

For instance, at a time when property prices were collapsing there were no official sources of information on house prices.

As a result policy-makers were largely reliant on industry reports and anecdotal evidence to quantify the scale of the problems emerging at that time.

A lack of robust data within the public system can impede the capacity of the Government to consider policy and fiscal options.

I don’t need to remind this audience that our economic reputation continues to be closely linked to official statistics, with Ireland’s credit rating, borrowing costs, and assessments by other international organisations, such as the OECD, very much driven by the latest economic indicators.

This is why an effective statistical system is so important to us.

Key Elements of the Strategy

I would like to commend the work of the NSB in preparing this comprehensive strategy document.

The NSB’s vision is of an Irish Statistical System aligned with leading international systems, where surveys remain central to the production of official statistics, but where more of the raw data is increasingly drawn from administrative data sources.

The board is clear that in order to achieve this it will be necessary to create a National Data Infrastructure that involves the use of permanent unique identifiers on public data sources, and the creation of a system of integrated base registers for statistical purposes.

The board supports the use of the Personal Public Service Number (PPSN) in interactions between the individual and the public sector, and likewise the use of a unique business identifier in interactions between enterprises and the State.

The strategy welcomes the growing recognition - reflected in a range of government policy initiatives - of the systematic importance now being placed on public sector data in support policy development and evaluation, administrative efficiency and the delivery of improved public services.

Implementation of the CSO’s coordination role is critical to support the quality and objectivity of official statistics produced right across the public sector. 

Official statistics must evolve to meet the changing demands and needs of users, using the opportunities of new data sources and technologies to create new statistical products and reach new audiences.

I note the board’s call for the CSO to develop its own Big Data strategy to enable the organisation to exploit potential opportunities for official statistics, and that the board also supports the establishment of an Irish Government Statistical Service (IGSS).

 

Data Protection Concerns

In the context of the increased use of personal data, I welcome the fact that the NSB strategy specifically recognises the legitimate privacy and data protection concerns of the general public.

Data provides us with huge potential. The Strategy acknowledges this. However, the Strategy also notes the spectre of ‘Big Brother’ is often raised in the public mind when concepts such as ‘data sharing’ and ‘data linking’ are used. Without the trust and confidence of the public in the bodies who collect, use and share their data, the potential held by data is lost. We need to improve this trust. And we can improve this trust.

Facilitating a whole of Government perspective on data protection is one of the important steps we need to take in this regard. I am currently chairing Inter-Departmental Committee on data issues, which brings together key representatives from across all Government Departments. This Committee provides an ideal platform for the development and sharing of good practice.

Additionally, the new Data Protection Regulation, which will give greater protection to personal data throughout the entire EU, is nearing completion.

And let us not forget the importance of transparency in building trust. We need to make it clear to the general public that the CSO will use data only for statistical purposes, can never divulge the identity of any individual or enterprise, nor publish or share individual level data with other public sector organisations.

Government Actions Underway

The NSB calls for the establishment by the public sector of a clear legal and ethical framework through Data Sharing and Governance legislation, which it sees as essential to ensure the careful use and management of public sector data for legitimate administrative and statistical uses.

As you will be aware Minister Howlin and his officials have been working to progress legislation in this area. The proposed legislation is seeking to establish an unambiguous legal basis for data sharing between Public Bodies.

Importantly, it is envisaged that the legislation would provide new transparency requirements for existing data sharing, and a clear framework for future data sharing.

It is hoped that this will also lead to a reduced burden on citizens and business, where data sharing between public bodies can also avoid the need, for you or I for example, to provide the same information multiple times to different bodies.

The Government’s Public Service Reform Plan committed to review all of the relevant legislative provisions in relation to data sharing between public bodies, and to develop principles for the sharing of data.

Increased data sharing also underpins the delivery of a number of the other objectives set out in the Reform Plan.

In addition, the vision set out in the Civil Service Renewal Plan implies that significantly more data sharing will occur between Public Bodies.

The Government’s Public Service ICT Strategy, launched at the start of this year, also emphasises data sharing on a whole-of-government basis as: “critical to supporting better decision making, driving efficiency and delivering a range of new digital government services to citizens and businesses”.

I understand that significant progress has already been made with the analysis of options for the deployment of a cost-effective, shared ICT infrastructure for the Public Service for which investment cases, and associated tenders, will be brought forward by the end of 2015.

Conclusion

The NSB has set out a clear vision for the future development of official statistics in Ireland.

The Board believes that the realisation of its vision of a modern and sophisticated Irish Statistical System - that uses the broadest possible range of data for the compilation of official statistics - will require significant changes in the structure, management and quality of administrative data holdings across the public sector.

The public sector is being challenged to think more systematically about the data that it holds, and about drawing on this data for official statistical purposes.

These changes will be supported and informed by the CSO, but ultimately they require leadership across the public service, and the willingness of public bodies to embrace change in the management of their data holdings.

This can achieve two key goals

-      it can improve the quality of our statistical system

-      and it can also reduce the burden on individuals and businesses.

Minister Howlin and his Department will continue to play a key role in driving the reform agenda across Government.

To conclude, I’d like to wish the NSB well over the next five years in following through on your ambition to deliver a world-class system of official statistics.

Thank you for your attention and I wish you all an enjoyable seminar.