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The University of Southampton

New national digital repository for social and economic data

Published: 8 July 2012
Prof David Martin
Prof Martin will co-direct the UK Data Service

Continuing access to the UK’s most valuable collection of social and economic data has been secured with a £17 million investment over five years for the UK Data Service. Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) the new service which will start on the 1st October 2012 is structured to support researchers in academia, business, third sector and all levels of government.

David Martin, Professor of Geography at the University of Southampton, will co-direct the UK Data Service. Over the last 10 years, he has overseen delivery of all ESRC census data services and an associated programme of research and development projects. These projects have had significant impacts on the Office for National Statistics’ design of the census in England and Wales, particularly in relation to geography, specification of data products and data publication plans.

“All this work will be taken forwards into the new UK Data Service where I will take on a broader remit for the relationships between the new service and the UK statistical organisations, as well as for coordination between the new data service and the ESRC's National Centre for Research Methods, also based here in Southampton,” said Professor Martin.

The new UK Data Service will provide a unified point of access to the extensive range of high quality economic and social data, including valuable census data. It is designed to provide seamless access and support to meet the current and future research demands of both academic and non-academic users, and to help them maximise the impact of their work.

“We are entering a particularly exciting period with the first 2011 census results published on 16 July and much more detail to follow this autumn and next year,” Professor Martin continued. “New Open Government Licensing will enable the academic, public and commercial sectors to work much more closely together using the census outputs and other government datasets and the UK Data Service will be central in facilitating this type of analysis.”

ONS are also engaged in an extensive series of work evaluating options for potential future replacement of the conventional census with other means of collecting data, for example by linking administrative records and surveys. Professor Martin is currently leading an ESRC-ONS collaboration on the research challenges presented by that work.

“The UK Data Service represents a significant step forward in our strategy,” says ESRC’s Chief Executive, Professor Paul Boyle. “As data are the lifeblood of research, our aim is to consolidate resources in a way that expands both the reach and impact of these vital investments. It will become a cornerstone for UK research; the place to go for high quality data and support.”

The UK Data Service will be created from the integration of the Economic and Social Data Service (ESDS), the Census Programme, the Secure Data Service and other elements of the data service infrastructure currently provided by the ESRC. The integration follows an economic evaluation of ESDS, which reveals that for every pound currently invested in data and infrastructure, the service returns £5.40 in net economic value to users and other stakeholders. This compares favourably with the return on investment previously demonstrated for the British Library and for UK academic libraries in general.

The UK Data Service will be a distributed service led by Dr Matthew Woollard from the University of Essex in collaboration with deputy directors Professor David Martin alongside Keith Cole and Professor James Nazroo from the University of Manchester. It will incorporate the new Census Support Service led by Professor John Stillwell, University of Leeds.

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