How the ONS is transforming its statistics for local areas

Innovation Picture

The ONS produces a huge amount of high-quality data covering the economy, environment, crime and immigration. Over the last few years, we’ve also been focusing our efforts on producing much more granular estimates so we can measure how our society and economy is changing at the local level. Emma Hickman writes about how this work is progressing and what insights we’ve produced. 

We are currently nearly 2 years into an ambitious three-year project to transform our subnational statistics to give users and policymakers much better information about how our nations, towns and cities are changing.   

This project aims to produce detailed breakdowns of our statistics that are meaningful to users. So, breaking down figures for towns, cities, combined authorities and Local Enterprise partnerships (LEPs), not just the former Government Office Regions. We have been working closely with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), local authorities and other local decision makers to ensure that we produce to right data with the most useful breakdowns.  

An early success was the publication of estimates of GVA at ‘building block’ level, which were updated only last week. We plan to develop similar level estimates for Gross Disposable Household Income to be released in spring this year. This enables users to understand both the business side and the household side of local economies in bespoke areas. It has also resulted in step change in the ability of government to evaluate policy using synthetic control methods.   

Another key pillar of our work has been the work undertaken on ‘Understanding Towns’, which has included producing a wide range of analysis to understand questions like how does the industry structure of a town impact the local labour market? , What is employment like outside of towns and cities and understanding how educational attainment varied by different types of towns.   

Most recently we analysed Census data at this level of geography and released insight on Towns and Cities: Characteristics of Built Up Areas. We will be developing this theme further, publishing census-based insights in Coastal areas on the 7th February. 

In addition, our ONS Local service, who are based across the four nations and every region in England enables local decision makers to compare their areas with similar localities across the country. We also work with our local stakeholders to help determine ONS priorities and  our work is focused on meeting user needs. Unlocking the potential of local data | National Statistical ( describes some examples of where we have already done this.  

In addition to our outputs, today we have provided some additional tables, at pace, that are supporting ongoing work on towns by DLUHC and helping ensure work on towns is based on strong evidence. This is a great example of how a collaborative cross departmental approach, which brings in insights into local areas and their specific needs have had a great impact in informing public debate and policy making..  

While just over half way into this ambitious project, we are already producing crucial information needed to take decisions. We look forward to delivering much more in the years ahead.  

Emma Hickman is Deputy Director for Subnational Statistics and Analysis at the ONS

Emma Hickman is Deputy Director for Subnational Statistics and Analysis at the ONS