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Business data linking. recent UK experience. business data in the UK. common register (IDBR) since 1994 key law: Statistics of Trade Act 1947 data collection supervised by a Survey Control Unit concerns over burden on business exemptions from repeat surveys for smallest firms

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Business data linking

Business data linking

recent UK experience

Business data in the uk
business data in the UK

  • common register (IDBR) since 1994

  • key law: Statistics of Trade Act 1947

  • data collection supervised by a Survey Control Unit

    • concerns over burden on business

    • exemptions from repeat surveys for smallest firms

  • devolved political and statistical framework

    • government departments separate bodies

    • data sharing has purposes and limitations specified

The business data linking project bdl
the Business Data Linking project (BDL)

  • begun in the late 1990s

    • core dataset: Annual Respondents Database

    • other datasets: R&D, skills, Community Innovation Surveys, e-commerce, New Earnings Survey…

  • joint venture between ONS, OGDs*, academics

  • academics on secondment work in a “safe setting”

  • no access outside ONS

  • outputs checked manually for disclosure checking

    *OGD: other government department

Sample outputs
sample outputs

  • solving the productivity problem?

    • UK multinationals as productive as foreign-owned firms

    • domestically-oriented firms even more unproductive?

  • ecommerce lowers prices!

    • ...perhaps...

    • actually seems to emphasise existing market conditions

    • competition increases - but monopolies get stronger too

  • on-the-job versus general skills

    • linking skills and schooling data to firm data indicates a genuine productivity gain from general human capital

Problems 1 the ministry for adding things up
problems (1): “the ministry for adding things up”

  • microdata quality suffers

    • statistical editing and block adjustment

  • redefinition and interpretation of data or metadata

    • more problematic for micro users

    • eg SIC80-SIC92

  • longitudinal integrity

    • crucial to micro analysis, irrelevant to macro numbers

    • not designed into repeat surveys

  • documentation

    • different focus

Problems 2 sampling frames
problems (2): sampling frames

  • small firms

    • low probability of reselection

    • smallest excluded by design

  • changes in census band

  • voluntary surveys

  • non-IDBR sample selection

Problems 3 inconsistencies
problems (3): inconsistencies

  • inconsistent across time

    • eg ICT and innovation surveys

  • inconsistent across surveys

    • eg foreign ownership

Problems 4 confidentiality
problems (4): confidentiality

  • linking complicates disclosure control

    • increases number of quality assurers

  • linking across small samples

    • reduces frequencies

    • increases likelihood of disclosiveness

  • no general government right to share data

    • explicit agreement needed to share data across OGDs

New developments
new developments

  • timely electronic documentation

  • automatic matching

  • feedback into survey design

  • integrated data and metadata system

  • increasing awareness of benefits of microdata

    • increases value of data

    • lowers business burden

    • answers new questions

    • improves knoweldge of datasets

What have we learnt
what have we learnt?

  • enthusiastic data providers are the key

    • plan early for disclosure checking too

    • feed back

  • check data version

    • may not be a ‘definitive’ file

    • and even ‘clean’ datasets need preparation time

  • check micro validity - macro validity isn’t enough

    • duplicates and bad values

    • inconsistencies within and across datasets and time

  • “useless” data can be useful when linked


  • be prepared to take the lead

  • don’t get stressed

    • recognise the data wasn’t collected for this purpose

    • enjoy the fact that is available

  • talk about it


Felix Ritchie

Business Data Linking

Office for National Statistics

1 Drummond Gate

London SW1V 1QQ

[email protected]

[email protected]