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Introduction from the Chief Executive

Globally, this has been a year of change and challenge. Much of the industrialised world is now progressing through an economic recession, which presents a great deal of uncertainty for governments, businesses, and individuals. To respond to these events, we need to understand both the economic and social impact they have. As a result, statistical information receives increased attention as people seek insight into current trends, and attempt to predict future developments.

On top of this, the public sector has been under increased scrutiny with a general election and change of government. There is a renewed focus on ensuring the public sector is delivering value-for-money services to New Zealanders. Statistical information is increasingly relied upon to inform policy decisions, prioritise where to invest taxpayers’ funds, and monitor the impact and success of government interventions.

Highlights

This year has seen Statistics New Zealand produce over 250 statistical releases and publications with significant media attention around many of them. There have been daily reminders in the news about the importance of official statistics when understanding our country and its progress. Statistics such as the quarterly gross domestic product have mapped the impact of international events on our economy, while labour market statistics have identified the impact on businesses, employees, and ultimately our communities.

We are committed to ensuring the continued production and quality of official statistics, as well as filling gaps in the suite of official statistics, where possible. We continued the planning for and development of the 2011 Census of Population and Dwellings, as well as progressed development and interviewing for several new social surveys. We completed the crime and criminal justice domain plan and the multi-year project to update our producer price indexes. Price indexes are important contributors to the movement of economic activity and this update was a priority of the Advisory Committee on Economic Statistics. We improved the timeliness of our electronic card transactions releases, published our online report Mapping Trends in the Auckland Region, and substantially completed work on a significant new report Measuring New Zealand’s Progress Using a Sustainable Development Approach: 2008, which is to be released in early 2009/10. We also instituted a respondent advocate role to provide relatively independent advice to me on respondent issues, where disputes occur or the balance of user benefit versus collection cost needs examining.

In addition to the wealth of information already available through the Statistics New Zealand website, we provided free access to around 250 million pieces of statistical information. This included the successful release and uptake of Infoshare, our interactive web-based data access tool. Infoshare includes a range of time series data, such as retail and wholesale trade, migration and visitor data, and detailed import and export data. Infoshare represents our commitment to getting statistics out into the community, so that more New Zealanders can make informed decisions.

We have put considerable effort into improving our quality management and production processes to ensure efficiency and manage the risk of errors occurring in the production of our statistical releases. Our project management discipline and performance lifted with strong leadership from our project management office. Our information and knowledge management practice also reached new levels through the implementation of a new document management system.

This year has seen a heightened level of engagement activity between senior management and staff. We have held a series of workshops with the majority of staff and have increased the communication across offices and work groups. I am seeing more and more examples of our organisational values of communicating, connecting, and leading becoming second nature to staff as they go about their daily work.

We continue to face substantial challenges as our statistical outputs rely on unsupported or outdated software. To resolve these issues and minimise future legacy issues, we have committed more funding to the information technology (IT) area, and have assessed our older IT legacy systems to determine which require total replacement, which have a high probability of immediate failure, and which can be maintained over the medium- to long-term. This assessment provides the basis for our IT plan of action for the next five years.

We face pressure in ensuring the department has the appropriate technical skills and knowledge to not only deliver fit-for-purpose official statistics but also to promote the value and use of official statistics, and provide assurance on the quality, relevance, and value-for-money of official statistics. During the year, we identified gaps in technical skills and knowledge across the organisation, and developed solutions to address these over the next few years.

Our year ahead

We are placing greater focus on our role and activity in leading the Official Statistics System. In the current fiscal environment, and given Government priorities, it is timely to review progress of the Official Statistics System. Three new initiatives that will be carried out in 2009/10 are refreshing the Official Statistics System strategy, redefining Tier 1 statistics, and reviewing statistical priorities across government.

We are committed to ensuring the continued production and quality of the most important official statistics as well as filling critical gaps in the country’s official statistics. Planning for, and decisions about, the 2011 Census of Population and Dwellings will be substantially completed next year. We will see a significant release of information from the Programme of Official Social Statistics, with the publication of data from the General Social Survey. To meet growing user demand for more information on our economy, we are developing a set of institutional sector accounts and enhancing our productivity statistics. We will improve the quality and relevance of our outputs by continuing our quality management programme.

Advances in technology and communication have changed the expectations of users and respondents. We need to keep up with their expectations by providing more modern and customised ways for them to respond to our requests for information, and for them to receive the published data from us. We are offering more choices in how they can supply their responses to us and we are investigating options for completing surveys online. In our role of providing accessible data, I am excited to see the launch of our new-look website, and the implementation of our dissemination strategy, both of which improve the accessibility of official statistics.

Additionally, it is important we continue to deliver on our key external commitments. Expectations are high and we have some difficult financial and infrastructural issues to deal with. In many cases our systems are in need of new investment. As part of our commitment to continuous improvement and good business practice, we will continue to review and prioritise where we invest.

Finally, to ensure the continued production and quality of official statistics, we must improve our systems and processes, and ensure we have the right skills and knowledge. I look forward to the development and progression of our long-term asset management plan, IT strategy and legacy mitigation plan, standardisation strategy, and people strategy. These will significantly increase our certainty in the department’s longer-term sustainability and will provide direction for future investment and resource allocation.

We have another challenging year ahead, with opportunities to increase our efficiency and effectiveness, our contribution across the government sector, and the impact we have on the community, through development of new measures and greater use of statistics. I am proud of the contribution we have made in 2008/09, and am confident we have a strong basis on which to continue in 2009/10. I look forward to seeing a more informed society using official statistics.


Geoff Bascand
Chief Executive and Government Statistician

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