How we work with HM Treasury and devolved administrations

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) Economic Statistics Classifications Secretariat is responsible for overseeing the correct sector classification of UK based organisations, and their economic transactions, for the purposes of compiling the UK National Accounts, Public Sector Finances and other economic statistics. The work of the Secretariat is particularly focussed on correctly classifying bodies that may be within the UK public sector, and to this end it maintains the Public Sector Classifications Guide (PSCG) which defines the statistical boundary of the public sector.

These statistical classifications can have important non-statistical impacts because other government departments may use the PSCG for administrative purposes. The exact nature of any impact will vary, but areas that could be impacted include budgetary controls, borrowing limits, civil service status of staff and audit requirements. ONS is neither aware of all the administrative uses made of the PSCG nor responsible for the ways in which organisations may be impacted as a result of these administrative uses.

When carrying out a classification assessment we contact HM Treasury and/or the relevant devolved administrations to collate information that is pertinent to the classification and to ensure that any administrative or policy implications of a classification decision can be considered by the appropriate bodies at an early stage. Therefore, open and timely dialogue between the ONS and key stakeholders in HM Treasury, Scottish Government, Welsh Government, and Northern Ireland Executive is important and mutually beneficial.

The Statistical Classifications Forum (SCF), chaired by a senior member of the ONS Economic Statistics Classifications Secretariat, provides a platform for discussions aimed at achieving collective understanding of the rules relating to statistical classifications and also plays a role in assisting prioritisation of ONS’s classification assessments.

Statistical Classification Forum Terms of Reference

1. Introduction

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has sole responsibility for ensuring statistical units (that is "bodies", "organisations") and the transactions they engage in are correctly classified in the UK National Accounts and other economic statistics (such as public sector finance and employment statistics). This involves interpreting and applying the classification rules laid out in the 2010 European System of Accounts (ESA10) EU legislation, the accompanying Manual on Government Deficit and Debt (MGDD), and the underlying 2008 System of National Accounts (SNA08).

Nevertheless, the statistical classifications for which ONS is responsible can have important 'real-world' impacts because of links to other classifications and targets. For example, the ONS statistical classification of a unit can affect its administrative classification, budgetary arrangements, freedom to borrow (due to restrictions on government units), employee terms and conditions, statistical reporting requirements, and so on. For this reason, open and timely dialogue between ONS and key stakeholders in Northern Ireland, Wales, Westminster, and Scotland is mutually beneficial. The SCF provides a channel for that discussion.

2. Purpose of the SCF

To provide a forum for:

  • achieving collective understanding of the rules relating to the classification of statistical units, transactions, contracts, and so on

  • providing input to the prioritisation of ONS classification assessments

  • discussion of the implementation of classification decisions (for example with reference to budgeting and reporting)

  • discussion of emerging new rules and changes to existing rules on classification - with the aim of establishing a “UK” position (but with recognition that ONS is ultimately responsible for providing a UK view based solely on statistical principles)

The group will not:

  • provide formal or binding advice on the application of ESA10 classification rules in specific cases – that is the sole responsibility of the ONS

  • have any power to authorise, veto, or otherwise annul ONS classification decisions (however, members of the group may request ONS to review a classification decision if members are of the opinion that material information has been omitted).

3. Membership

The group is chaired by the Office of National Statistics and membership shall include representatives from HM Treasury Classification and Budgetary Advice branch, Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, and the Northern Ireland Executive. Others may be invited where relevant and with permission from the chair.

4. Member responsibilities

4.1 ONS

  • The sole ONS concern is ensuring the correct classification of statistical units and transactions within the ESA10 framework, budgetary and other impacts will only influence prioritisation of work and not classification decisions.

  • In order to ensure robust and independent statistical classifications, the ONS cannot be involved in discussions of policy design, options, and so on, and reserves the right not to comment on matters being discussed as necessary.

  • The ONS will attend and chair all forum meetings.

  • The ONS will invite contributions to agenda for each meeting and circulate the agenda at least two weeks ahead of each meeting.

  • The ONS will take minutes of each meeting and circulate these for comment within 10 working days of each meeting.

  • The ONS will ensure the group's views are factored in when setting work priorities.

  • The ONS will ensure that all relevant matters, including proposed changes to statistical rules are brought to the group's attention within a reasonable time.

4.2 Other members

Other members will:

  • attend all meetings

  • contribute emerging policies, schemes, proposals, and so on to the group for discussion

  • undertake to contribute to agendas, consultations, minutes, reports, and so on within the deadlines set

  • not seek to compromise ONS' independence or integrity in respect of statistical classification decisions

5. Frequency, timing, and location of meetings

The forum will meet in each calendar quarter, with successive meetings each taking place in a different country when possible, or via web or video conferencing.