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First UK Business Data user conference sees leading economists explore sustainable development

The first UK Business Data user conference took place on 21 September, co-organised by Vanessa Higgins of the UK Data Service and Louise Corti from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Attendees had the opportunity to hear about updates on three main ONS business surveys: the Business Insights and Conditions Survey (BICS), the Ecommerce Survey and the Management and Expectations Survey, plus economic statistics in general.

Donna Leong, Director of Economic Statistics Change at the ONS on the ARIES business transformation programme, gave the key note talk. ARIES (Ambitious, Radical, Inclusive Economic Statistics) has been developed in response to the United Nations’ initiative for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A panel of senior economists and data specialists from ONS joined Donna to facilitate the question-and-answer session:

• Heather Bovill, Deputy Director for Surveys and Economic Indicators

• Ed Palmer, Deputy Chief Economist and Head of Analysis, Microdata and Engagement

• Richard Heys, Deputy Chief Economist, Head of Productivity, Research Partnerships and Professional Development

• Jon Gough, Head of Statistical Design and Legacy within Business Statistics Transformation

There followed an interview with two experts on enabling relationships between central government and academia on research; Frances Pottier, Head of Business Statistics, Data Analytics and Business Statistics at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Grant Fitzner, ONS Chief Economist and Director of Macroeconomic Statistics and Analysis.

An optional lunchtime drop-in session with Lily O’Flynn from the UK Statistics Authority, Gabor Farkas of the ONS Secure Research Service (SRS) and Alix Taylor from the UK Data Service Secure Lab, gave participants an insight into Digital Economy Act (DEA) project accreditation.

The afternoon session featured parallel presentations around key themes. Experts from ONS chaired a session on: Productivity, research and development, (Josh Martin, Economist and Head of Productivity); Investments and policy (Ed Palmer); and International markets (Chris Goldsworthy, Co-Head of Subnational Trade, Global Trade and Investment). Speakers from universities and research institutes using the UK Data Service SecureLab and ONS SRS for their research projects included:

• Jennifer C Smith, University of Warwick

• Mehmet Ugur, University of Greenwich

• Maksim Belitski, University of Reading

• Helen Simpson and Susan Harkness, University of Bristol

• Silvia Avram, University of Essex

• Anastasios Kitsos, University of Birmingham

• Jakub Zagdanski, Cambridge Econometrics

• Joel Kariel, University of Oxford and University of Kent

• Jun Du, Aston University

Co-organiser and Director of Training at the UK Data Service, Vanessa Higgins commented: “This was the first user conference we have held for the secure business data accessed via the UK Data Service SecureLab and the ONS Secure Research Service, and we were delighted to be hosting it in collaboration with ONS. The senior economists from ONS highlighted the exciting future developments for the business data and there were very lively discussions between the participants – this was great to see, as one of the aims of the conference was to provide that vital link between the researcher community and ONS.

“The UK Data Service is celebrating 10 years of making detailed microdata accessible remotely via the SecureLab. It was wonderful to celebrate that innovation and success, particularly as remote access has been really important to researchers during the pandemic.”

Plans are already in the offing to make the UK Business Data User Conference an annual event. It will join the roster of annual conferences on user data currently organised by the UK Data Service, on topics such as health; family finance and employment. Forthcoming events include the Crime Surveys User Conference on 2 December, which is now open for registrations.