The Treasury plans to set aside up to £25 million over the term of this parliament to improve the quality of Britain’s economic data.
The chancellor is expected to unveil a fund of up to £5 million a year in the budget, earmarked for state organisations that come up with bright ideas to help policymakers to better understand what is going on in the economy.
Government departments, devolved administrations, local authorities and bodies such as the Office for National Statistics can bid for the money.
In the budget tomorrow Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, will reveal how the government plans to spend the £80 billion of headroom it has for infrastructure investment. Transport and broadband are expected to receive extra funding with a focus on the north of England, where former Labour constituencies voted Tory on December.
The new infrastructure spending will not comply with the Treasury’s old rules after the chancellor decided that they rewarded already successful parts of the country. The new data fund is intended to help analysis and policy. Good data is regarded as essential if the government is to gauge which regions need support.
Consultancies such as Cambridge Econometrics provide data on the stock of capital by UK region, which provides insight on where the infrastructure deficit is greatest. Official data focuses only on the flow of investment in a year.
New ideas could range from how to improve live data monitoring for crises like coronavirus to working with Highways England to build a better picture of where traffic pressures are greatest.
Andy Haldane, the Bank of England chief economist, has expressed concern about the timelines of official data and highlighted the scope to use unconventional sources. In 2018 he suggested cross-checking Spotify downloads with “semantic search techniques” to improve measures of the nation’s wellbeing.