There was an overhaul of the national accounts in September. Figures were reweighted at 1995 prices, rather than 1990 prices. An agreed European system of accounts was introduced. A more comprehensive Business Register the central list of companies with which all branches of government come into contact, updated weekly is feeding into a wider range of ONS data.
Experts reckon that, over the longer term, the changes will mean a huge improvement in how manufacturing and services are treated in national figures, and the new data will be better for international comparison.
The ONS defines manufacturing within a system called Standard Industrial Classification. Productivity is measured by dividing output by the number of people in employment. The figures are gathered in a large-scale survey, conducted annually by sending questionnaires to each workplace. There are updates each month.
‘We follow European guidelines, and they are sometimes fuzzy. Ideally the information should be split into different activities even if it is at one site,’ James Partington of ONS says. Instead, a company will be defined by the main activity at the site and it could mean that some manufacturing activity is not measured. But officials believe the level is not enough to cause distortions.
Alternative figures at company level are being developed, which will help show the extent of secondary activity in the manufacturing and service sectors.