Stricter targeting of data.

ONS data collection methods to change

Published:  10 May, 2011

NORTHAMPTON: The Office for National Statistics is considering a change in the way it collects data about the construction industry because of fears that it has distorted reported levels of activity.

Construction executives said a change to the methods used for the agency's monthly survey led companies to submit data about business completed up to six weeks earlier.

"It's not just a problem with this first quarter, but for a while now we've been concerned about the reliability of the [ONS] numbers," said Geoff Cooper, chief executive of Travis Perkins.

Until 2010, the survey measured the value of new orders won during the month. The new survey asks for the volume of output in the period.

Executives from contractors and building materials companies including Kier, Tarmac and McLaren Construction echoed this view. The Builders' Merchants Federation pointed out discrepancies as far back as 2009.

If the complaints are correct, UK GDP is likely to have grown about 0.8% in the first quarter of 2011 rather than the 0.5% reported. The higher level of output is in line with forecasts in March from the Office for Budget Responsibility and in February from the Bank of England.

However, any upgrade also suggests the economy contracted by more than the 0.5 per cent decline in GDP in the fourth quarter of 2010. The ONS said activity was "flattish" after accounting for the effects of snow. Now, it emerges, output may have contracted.

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