I thank the committee for the invitation to discuss the 2017 appropriation accounts for the Central Statistics Office. I am joined by several colleagues. Maria Hurley is assistant director general with responsibility for the corporate affairs directorate, which includes the finance, governance and human resources functions. Jennifer Banim is assistant director general of the economic statistics directorate. Richard McMahon is assistant director general of the social and demography directorate. I propose to briefly outline the role of the Central Statistics Office as well as our strategy and achievements during 2017. I will also give an overview of the CSO 2017 appropriation account and outline CSO expenditure in 2017.
The CSO is Ireland's national statistical institute and is responsible for the production and oversight of the production of all official statistics for Ireland. The CSO is an independent office of the Civil Service under the aegis of the Taoiseach. The role of the director general of the CSO is prescribed in the Statistics Act 1993, which provides that the officeholder acts independently and exercises sole responsibility in professional statistical matters, including statistical methodology, professional standards, timing and content of statistical releases and methods of dissemination.
The National Statistics Board, with the agreement of the Taoiseach, has the general function of guiding the overall strategic direction of the CSO. This independent position reflects international best practice for the organisation of official statistics. The functions of the CSO, as set out in the Statistics Act, include "the collection, compilation, extraction and dissemination for statistical purposes of information relating to economic, social and general activities and conditions in the State." This mandate was broadened under EU Regulation No. 223/2009, which makes the CSO director general responsible for the co-ordination and oversight of the quality of all European official statistics compiled by public authorities in Ireland. Confidence in the quality and independence of official statistics is crucial as this information serves as an objective input to policy development, oversight and governance at national and international levels.
Under EU regulation, each member state was invited to commit to improve or maintain the conditions for the implementation of the European statistics code of practice via a commitment on confidence. In May 2017, the Government adopted a commitment on confidence in statistics. In signing this declaration, the Government reaffirmed the CSO's independence, impartiality and commitment to quality.
From a governance and planning perspective, good policies start with good data. Good data are the lifeblood of decision-making and the basis for accountability. The role of the CSO is to make sense of data by providing high quality statistics, independent insight and information for effective debate and decision-making across government, business and society. The work we do creates good quality statistics that help people to understand the changes taking place in Ireland's economy and society.
The key deliverables and objectives for the CSO are informed by national and European policy. The CSO delivers a demanding and growing statistical work programme each year. In 2017, a total of 345 electronic releases and publications were published, including 13 outputs on census 2016. We are currently preparing for the next census in 2021. In addition to electronic releases and publications, the CSO transmits data to EUROSTAT, the Central Bank, the European Central Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Health Organization, among others.
The European statistical system has a significant impact on the work of the CSO. Approximately 73% of the statistics we produced in 2017 were required under EU statistical legislation. The CSO is an active member of the European statistical system and is centrally involved in key committees and executive bodies across a range of domains.
We delivered across all our strategic aims in 2017. Alongside our 2017 statistical work programme, we completed the census 2016 project during 2017, producing some new style results publications and more than 30 individual infographics to support the communication of key releases. We published the first estimate of GNI*. This is a modified indicator of the overall size or level of the economy. We also published a modified total domestic demand indicator that focuses on activity within the Irish economy. This is designed to exclude significant globalisation effects that disproportionately affect the Irish economic results.
We established the Irish statistical system co-ordination directorate, which is leading on key strategic issues such as the development of the national data infrastructure and the co-ordination of professional statistical services to the broader Irish public system. We continued to explore the use of secondary and blended data sources to compile new analysis, progressing the evolution of official statistics through the use of emerging data resources while focusing on burden reduction for respondents.
We introduced a more cost-effective data collection methodology in our household survey domain, namely, computer assisted telephone interviewing, which has afforded respondents a greater degree of flexibility in the manner in which they engage with the office and support our field force in concentrating its efforts on respondent recruitment in an environment of persistently falling response rates.
The CSO ran the Civil Service employee engagement survey in 2017, which operated across the entire Civil Service under action 25 of the Civil Service renewal plan and provided important insights into the experiences and opinions of those working in the Civil Service. The results were compiled by the office before being supplied to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for analysis and publication and the resulting outputs were used to inform further development towards the reform of the Civil Service. We capitalised on new approaches to communication and user engagement by developing a new style of infographic and developing user applications on Brexit, house prices and the consumer price index among others.
The CSO also improved access to data for researchers by launching a remote access to microdata solution for researchers in 2017, significantly improving data security. From an internal statistical quality perspective, during 2017 the CSO continued its investment in the new quality and methodology support function, headed by a senior statistician and tasked with underpinning the CSO's efforts to consistently refine its approach to quality management in official statistics and its commitment to continuous methodological improvement. Overall, 2017 was a year of transition for the CSO, maintaining the historic focus on the systematic production of key economic and social indicators, while striving to broaden the focus and reach of official statistics to a more mainstream audience in response to the public demand for access to impartial and high-quality data to inform evaluation and decision making.
The net outturn for the CSO in 2017 was €44.727 million against an estimate provision of €48.584 million. This lower than anticipated expenditure resulted in a surrender of €3.856 million back to the Exchequer at the end of December 2017. The bulk of the saving related to expenditure on salaries, wages and allowances that are payable to permanent staff assigned to the office. The 2017 appropriation account was audited by the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General.
I will briefly outline the office’s expenditure in 2017. First, with respect to salaries, the bulk of the office's expenditure is expended on salaries, wages and allowances that are paid to permanent staff assigned to the CSO. In 2017, this expenditure amounted to €36.080 million against an estimate of €38.983 million. Savings of €2.903 million were realised. The estimate allocation was based on staff numbers of 755 but the actual number serving throughout the year was lower at 736. This was mainly due to difficulties and delays in the filling of vacancies at statistician level and in IT technical grades during the year.
With respect to other non-pay, in line with other Votes, the CSO has several non-pay administrative subheads: A(ii) travel and subsistence; A(iii) training and development and incidental expenses; A(iv) postal and telecommunications services; A(v) office equipment and external IT services; A(vi) office premises expenses; A(vii) consultancy services and value for money and policy reviews; and A(viii) collection of statistics. Non-pay administrative expenditure of the office in 2017 amounted to €10.189 million against an estimate of €10.989 million. Savings of €800,000 were returned to the Exchequer. The detail of this expenditure is set out in appendix A, which has been circulated to the committee.
Our strategic goals were captured in our statement of strategy 2016 to 2019, which was published in late 2016. In this, we said that we aim to turn data and statistics into information and knowledge for all; to increase the use of secondary data sources; to continue to build the capacity of our people; to modernise our statistical processes and systems, and to co-ordinate, oversee and assure the quality of all official statistics produced in Ireland. The CSO is operating in an increasingly challenging environment. We are experiencing growing user demand, both nationally and from Europe, where EUROSTAT and the European Central Bank are the two main sources. The CSO is increasingly being asked to take on new survey work or to incorporate existing studies into its programme of official statistics, as can be seen by the recent announcement to embed the Growing Up in Ireland survey from 2023 and the decision to task the CSO with conducting a new sexual violence survey, a modern successor to the 2002 SAVI report.
The complexity of the world we are trying to measure is also increasing with emerging issues such as globalisation and digitalisation, which result in complex economic transactions necessitating sophisticated analysis to decipher. We are experiencing transformational change in the range and complexity of the data sources available to describe our economy and our society. We are witnessing the use of statistics and data by a growing variety of stakeholders, sometimes with agenda-driven emphasis. We are experiencing growing levels of scrutiny of data to ascertain its reliability, accuracy and veracity. In this environment, the CSO is responding by maintaining a focus on its important heritage of impartiality and objectivity in the formulation of transparently produced, accurate and reliable official statistics, while exploring the boundaries of technology, data sources and statistical methods and techniques to persistently enhance the quality and insight afforded by our outputs. To do this, we are committed to building an innovative, agile and high-performing organisation to fully exploit the potential of the data and technological revolutions. Our aim is to deliver a broader range of high-quality information on societal and economic change for Ireland, which is demonstrably independent and without bias, and which can withstand scrutiny as regards data sources, statistical methodology and the impartiality of its compilers. In so doing, we can support the process of guiding Ireland’s future development for the benefit of all our citizens. That concludes my statement. I thank the members for their attention. My colleagues and I are happy to take any questions they have to offer.