Venue: Department of the Taoiseach
Date: Tuesday 20 May, 2014
The following members attended:
Dr. Patricia O’Hara (Chairperson), Ms. Rowena Dwyer, Dr. Helen Johnston, Mr. Gerard O’Neill, Mr. John Callinan, Mr. John McCarthy and Mr. Pádraig Dalton.
Ms. Jennifer Banim, Dr. Steve MacFeely, Mr. Joe Treacy and Mr. Kieran Walsh were also in attendance. Mr. Donal Kelly acted as Secretary.
Apologies: Mr. Tom Geraghty
Item 1: Minutes of March 25(NSB 2014/3/2)
The minutes of the previous meeting were accepted without amendment.
Item 2: Director General’s progress report (NSB 2014/3/3)
The Director General briefed the Board on a number of recent developments within CSO and at European level.
The forthcoming methodological changes to the National Accounts data were discussed in detail. Board members sought clarification from CSO on the basis for the changes, the implications for users and the efforts being made by CSO to communicate the changes to users and the general public. CSO indicated that some changes to GDP were likely and that quarterly balance of payments and national accounts data would be revised for 2012 and 2013 initially and eventually the series would be revised as far back as 1997. There will be some implications for existing Department of Finance and ESRI models and projections, but there has been ongoing communication with these users over the past 12 months. CSO undertook to continue to work with users to explain the changes and to avoid any misrepresentation of the new figures.
The Board discussed the CSO’s National Accounts IT project, including the resources it is currently using and the likely benefits that would accrue from it. The DG indicted that the main improvement would be in terms of the quality and reliability of the National Accounts data, with the new system integrating data collection and processing in a much more efficient and stable manner than the existing system.
The new EU FRIBS regulation was discussed in the context of the potential improvements it might bring to the data held on Multi-National Enterprises (MNEs). The DG welcomed the efforts to improve the data on MNEs and the understanding of global value chains but cautioned that the level of microdata sharing envisaged in the new regulation could have implications for the level of cooperation being extended to the CSO by larger enterprises.
Item 3: Update on CSO resources
The Director General described the current staffing and financial profile of the CSO and expressed the view that the CSO does not have the capacity within existing resources to meet increasing statistical demands from the EU and from national users.
The Board sought information about the funding levels and whether it was possible to make comparisons between national statistical institutes (NSIs) internationally in terms of budget and expenditure. They also asked about the views of other NSIs on the increasing demands of the European statistical programme.
CSO informed the Board that it is very difficult to draw funding comparisons between NSIs because of the unique nature of statistical infrastructure across countries. These include the heavy reliance on administrative data in some countries and decentralised statistical systems in others. CSO also pointed out that while NSIs are trying to push back against the growing demand for statistics, given resource limitations, the Eurostat response is that the demand for more statistics is coming from policy-makers (e.g. ECOFIN).
The CSO outlined its view that there are significant systemic risks inherent in failing to meet regulatory requirements, including the possibility of prosecution at EU level if the quality and breadth of required statistics is compromised.
The Board discussed a number of different funding models, including the possibility of generating funding from other government agencies that have a need for particular statistics. The Board requested that CSO would provide an update on the resource situation at the next meeting.
Item 4: NSB Strategy 2015-2020 (NSB 2014/3/4)
There was a wide-ranging discussion about the new National Statistics Board strategy to cover the period 2015 to 2020.
The Board considered the purpose of the strategy itself and discussed the need for the Board to articulate and actively pursue its own goals separately to the work of the CSO. The Board emphasised that high quality joined-up data must underpin policy formulation, and that this would be a key tenet of the new strategy. The Board stated the need to describe a high-level vision and set of ambitions for the Irish statistical system over the period of the strategy.
The Board discussed the changing statistical landscape and the evolving role of the CSO within it. It considered the changing profile of users; the implications for official statistics of the new ISS code of practice; the proliferation of new data sources (i.e. administrative and ‘big data’); recurring concerns about data security and privacy, and some key national data gaps within the existing statistical programme.
It was agreed that further engagement with the Board members around the new strategy would take place and that an outline of the new strategy would be circulated before the next meeting.
Item 5: Any other business
The Board noted the departure of Assistant Director General Steve MacFeely from the CSO to take up a post as Chief of Statistics and Policy Information in the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Geneva. The Board thanked Steve for his contribution to the development of official statistics in Ireland and wished him well in his new role.
The next meeting of the Board will take place on Wednesday July 30that 10am in the Department of the Taoiseach.