The Economic History Review

Towards a new Bradshaw? Economic statistics and the British state in the 1950s and 1960s

Volume 60 Issue 1
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Pages: 1-34Authors: GLEN O’HARA
Published online: June 21, 2006DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0289.2006.00354.x

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SUMMARY This article outlines the attempts of British central government to react to the perceived inadequacy of official economic statistics. A huge amount of work went into this project, the main aim of which was to speed up the production of statistics so that the economy could be analysed in more detail, and thus better managed. If this was to work, more data was required on the labour market, on productivity, on production, and on the interlinkages between those indicators. British official statistics clearly were more comprehensive and more detailed at the end of this period than they had been at the start. Even so, the effort was usually thought to have been a failure by the early 1970s. More detail took time to produce; it was difficult to recruit the necessary staff; successive administrative reorganizations also absorbed energies. The devolved informality of British government hampered the emergence of an overall picture. Businesses and trade unions resisted attempts to collect more data, especially when it showed them in an unflattering light. Above all, the elite, specialist, and technical nature of the reform process meant that very little political and popular pressure built up to force through further changes.