THE establishment of an independent Scottish Statistics Agency is the main recommendation of the latest policy document produced by think tank Common Weal.

The latest in the White Paper series, which deals with the policies and infrastructure an independent Scotland will require, shows how the creation of independent Scottish Statistics Agency could end Scotland’s data desert and put the annual GERS controversy to bed.

An independent Scottish Statistics Agency (SSA) could also provide a significant boost to the economic management of the country.

READ MORE: A bespoke statistics agency could show us what's really happening in Scotland

While Scotland has better data provision than the UK as a whole, it lags far behind comparable European countries. The gap is one of the leading causes of the annual controversy surrounding the GERS statistics, which serve as an estimation of Scotland’s finances within the United Kingdom.

The report by Common Weal head of research Craig Dalzell argues: “Regardless of Scotland’s constitutional arrangements … it should be universally recognised that better data can be used to produce better government policy and to better monitor policy as it is implemented”.

The enhanced data could allow the government to better target income tax and other ways to raise money, while the SSA could create hundreds of high-paid jobs, giving a boost to Scotland’s economy.

Jim Cuthbert, former Scottish Office chief statistician, said: “There is a real need to review the arrangements for providing official statistics in Scotland, particularly given the data requirements for the operation of the new fiscal settlement, and the absolute priority under that settlement for the Scottish Government to manage the economy so as to achieve optimal economic performance.

“There is a need to overcome the fragmentation of statistics as government relies increasingly on agencies and other bodies to deliver public services, not to mention the potential for further constitutional change, and the statistical requirements that would pose.

“It is therefore absolutely right that Dr Dalzell’s welcome paper makes the case for a Scottish Statistics Agency. It is also right that the paper does not draw firm conclusions about how such an SSA should be structured, but sets out options. What is needed now is an active debate on how statistics in Scotland should be organised in a changing, and challenging, world.”

Robin McAlpine, Director of Common Weal said: “A serious country measures itself to help it make better decisions about its future. I really want Scotland to be a serious country. A Scottish Statistics Agency would be a big step forward.”

Key Points from the Common Weal Report

  • Scotland’s level of statistical data provision marks it as the best-served nation within the UK, but overall provision falls short of what would be expected to serve an independent country.
  • Regardless of Scotland’s constitutional arrangements, better data provision is vital for the creation of better government policy and better management.
  • Specific gaps have been identified in areas such as the regionalisation of data, the tax gap, GERS, Whole of (Scottish) Government Accounts, the National Register of Assets and Scottish import and export data.
  • A Scottish Statistics Agency (SSA) would be charged with identifying and filling gaps in statistical provision.
  • The SSA may take the form of a single, centralised agency charged with collecting or commissioning the vast majority of statistical data. Alternatively, it may be more of an overseer of a decentralised network of specialised data providers, a regulator to ensure the data meets a sufficiently stringent Code of Practice as well as maintaining a data portal to ensure access to the gathered data.
  • Ideal budgeting is difficult to assess, as budgets depend on the model employed. An SSA proportional in size to the UK’s would have a budget of £15 million per year and would employ 265 people. An SSA the size of Sweden’s would have a budget of £83.3 million and employ 700 people.