On 21 July 2020, the Royal Statistical Society hosted an important and well-attended virtual meeting to discuss the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) and HM Treasury’s proposed changes to the Retail Prices Index (RPI).
This RSS had previously successfully argued for an extension to this consultation process, because during the early stages of the Covid-19 lockdown it was not possible to generate a real public debate about the issues involved. As everybody has become more accustomed to virtual meetings, it became clear that this was an opportunity to involve more people in the debate than might have otherwise been possible.
Just under 100 people took part in a lively and high-quality discussion and leading figures from UKSA were present to take part in and hear the debate.
Jonathan Athow, the Deputy National Statistician – Economics, gave a summary of the goals of the consultation and outlined the proposed methodological changes.
Tony Cox, chair of the RPI CPI User Group, set out some concerns with the consultation and the nature of its criticism of the RPI.
Jill Leyland, former RSS vice president and co-author of the 2015 paper, ‘Towards a Household Inflation Index’, summarised the RSS’s existing position on the appropriate measurement of inflation and argued for a more rapid introduction of a Household Cost Index as an alternative to the proposed changes to RPI.
The meeting then heard from Ashwin Kumar (Manchester Metropolitan University), who stressed the importance of understanding how prices change in different parts of the country; Jonathan Camfield (Lane Clark and Peacock), who outlined the impact on pensions and argued that a clear roadmap for changes is essential; Robert O’Neill (University of Manchester), who argued that the debate focusing on RPI and CPI might be impeding the development of better household cost indices; lastly, Chris Giles (Financial Times) who made the case that the changes to RPI are long-overdue and should be implemented as soon as possible.
A lively debate ensued, covering a wide range of issues including: the scope of the consultation; the possibility of a separate pensioners’ index; methodological questions around various indices; and, the possibility of a role for electronic data collection.
This discussion will now inform the RSS’s response to the UKSA-Treasury Consultation. If you are a member of the RSS and would like to feed in to this process please send a 250 word summary of your views on the proposals to firstname.lastname@example.org.
UKSA are also keen to hear from individuals and you can respond to the consultation online in a personal capacity. The deadline for submissions is 21 August.
Transcript of the event
Download a transcript of the event.
Video of the event
A recording of the event is available below.
If you can't see the video above, watch it on our YouTube channel.
Please note, the slide showing at 0:15:16 incorrectly shows the closing date of the consultation as 22 August. The correct date is 21 August.
Report written by Jonathan Everett, RSS head of policy.