In the UK, the Office for National
Statistics (ONS) is the largest independent producer of official statistics
and its recognised national statistical institute. Its main responsibilities
are collecting, analysing, and disseminating statistics about the UK’s economy,
society, and population at national, regional and local levels. It also
conducts the census in England and Wales every 10 years.
For many years, ONS economic releases have relied on monthly survey
returns from businesses to calculate how much the economy has grown. Monthly
Business Survey (MBS) were sent to 45,000 companies to collect information
about the companies’ turnover i.e. the amount of money coming in and out of
their bank account. The information was then used by the ONS to estimate the
performance of the UK economy.
new data source to improve GDP estimates
To improve the detail and timeliness of its Gross Domestic Product
(GDP) estimates, ONS adopted a platform solution by Cloudera Inc. to
incorporate a new data source from 600,000 of the 1.8 million total Value Added
Tax (VAT) returns to complement the 45,000 survey responses. At the initial
stage, ONS used VAT returns for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), those
employing up to 100 people, as these firms represent around 98% of all UK
According to the Chief Economist of ONS Mr Nick Vaughan, the new VAT data source gives ONS a
more detailed picture of how the UK economy is performing. He explained how the
improved approach helped to better gauge the performance of food and beverage
service activities in the UK.
“For example, we currently send 172 forms a month to small
restaurants and takeaways while we can now access nearly 28,000 VAT returns.
Similarly, we send 108 forms a month to pubs and clubs when we will use 18,000
VAT returns to improve the quality of our estimates. The scaling up in
available data means we can now measure detailed geographies and industries
much more quickly than we have ever achieved before,” Mr Vaughan wrote.
The role of data platform
in enabling better data processing
This unprecedented use of VAT returns data in GDP measurements represents
a significant advance in the transformation of UK National Accounts and short-term
economic indicators. The initiative was facilitated by ONS’ adoption of Cloudera
Enterprise data platform.
Using Cloudera Enterprise not only benefits ONS’ use of newly available
data sources on its Data Access Platform, it also facilitates ONS analysis,
production and publication of more detailed and relevant statistics, including
timely information on local economies. The Cloudera platform also includes high
levels of security to protect this important data.
In addition, ONS data scientists are using Cloudera
Data Science Workbench to transform historical analytical products
into new ones using R, Python, and Scala.
The expansion of available data, together with Cloudera tools, means
that ONS’ analysts, statisticians, economists and data scientists can now
perform increasingly fine-grained analysis much more quickly than ever before.
“Adding VAT information to ONS’ data pool is an important move in
providing richer analysis of the performance of the UK’s economy. This is an
excellent example of how modernising IT systems can empower businesses to
deliver phenomenal results and seize control of their data while enjoying cost
and time savings,” said Mr David Pieterse, Vice President EMEA at Cloudera said.