A panoramic photograph of Malham Cove in North Yorkshire.

Great data for a Great British recovery.

What data the UK government needs to publish. How that will accelerate our recovery. How to do it quickly.

Good local testing data.

Releasing great local testing data will boost Britain's recovery from Covid-19. Good local testing data looks like what is published every day at 19h15 in France and at 18h00 in Italy and for Germany at midnight. This has been happening for months. The data is reported for small geographies (départements in France) and includes the number of people tested and the number of people who tested positive every day. It is at most three days in arrears.

The test reporting must be honest. Counting a swab and a plastic pot posted out to someone is not a test performed. Use your common sense and remember that if the data is not honest, it has almost no value. The test reporting must include the number of tests performed so that we can be sure that decreases and increases reflect real changes in infection.

Good local testing data will accelerate our economic recovery. It will let people quickly understand that new outbreaks are isolated. It will maintain public confidence at a distance from outbreaks. The economies of Bournemouth, Blyth, and Bristol will be less affected by an outbreak in Brighton than without this data.

This will work. We know that it is working in France and Germany and Italy. It powered local deconfinement in France. It will power local lockdowns in France if they are required. We can do it here, but we must escape from the current lie about testing. That should be easy, call it a "break in the series". France did this on 29 May and no-one cared. Just do it. It will let us stop saying "unavailable" for the number of people tested, as we've done for a month. Please be brave.

Good local economic data.

On 11 June HMRC released data on the takeup of the Job Retention Scheme with breakdowns by region and local authority of the country and by sector of the economy. This is excellent. It could be improved by including the sectoral breakdown by local authority.

This data is already helping analysts update models used throughout the economy and within local governments across the country to provide assistance and advice to struggling firms. It didn't require a dashboard to be built. It was fine published as an Excel spreadsheet with PDF guidance.

We need this data to be updated every week. It needs to be accompanied by the same data covering Universal Credit claims and bounceback loans.

What I'm suggesting happens in France now and has happened for two months. This is the French dashboard for their equivalents of furloughing, bounceback loans, grants, and tax payment delays. All the raw data is linked to off the dashboard. Additional datasets can be found off the French dashboard for furloughing and unemployment. This is all possible. If it's not, please tell us why. Britons will understand.

How to do it quickly.

The testing data is easy. Have a fresh start, say that the local test and trace teams are taking over data publishing, and break the series. Once we start publishing great local data we will start making people across the whole country confident that they're safe.

Learn the lesson from HMRC and let people publish data in whatever format they like. Excel spreadsheets with PDF explanations are fine, publishing on GitHub (as Italy does) is fine, less accessible dashboards (as France does) are fine, properietary software and bloated pages (as in Germany) is fine.

All these options are better than nothing and nothing is what we have now. Throw away the GDS style guide if it creates a single barrier beyond privacy to anyone pressing publish. We can fix it later. For now we need data.

Testing and economic data for the Bouches-du-Rhône département (Marseille). From the French national Covid-19 dashboard. Raw data is more current and of higher quality and linked to throughout this piece.

ps. Most of the relevant economic data will need to be provided by the UK government for the whole of the UK. Testing data is devolved within the UK and is already better in Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland than it is in England. I think that my suggestions for improvement apply to all three nations, but I am only sure about the case of the UK government's competence for England.

blog comments powered by Disqus