Changes to ONS Gross Domestic Product (GDP) release schedule

Closes 14 Sep 2017

Opened 13 Jul 2017


The ONS currently publishes three Gross Domestic Product (GDP) releases for each quarter. This sees a ‘Preliminary Estimate’ published approximately four weeks after the end of the preceding quarter. This estimate only contains output data as there are no expenditure or income data available. A ‘Second Estimate of GDP’ is published approximately eight weeks after the end of the preceding quarter, this release has higher data content for the output approach than in the ‘Preliminary Estimate’ and includes first estimates of the expenditure and income approaches to GDP. The ‘Quarterly National Accounts’ release includes the third estimate of GDP and is published approximately 13 weeks after the end of the preceding quarter. It contains increased data content on output, income and expenditure and is published alongside key data from the sector accounts and balance of payments.

This consultation proposes an alternative model for the publications of GDP estimates, the full details of the model can be found in Figure 1 (attached below and on page 1).

In summary, this model would give two balanced estimates of quarterly GDP using data from the output, income and expenditure approaches around six weeks and 13 weeks after the end of the preceding quarter. 

In addition, the Index of Services publication would be moved 2 weeks earlier to become part of the Short Term Economic Indicator theme day, enabling the publication of monthly GDP estimates, which would include both a three-month rolling estimate and an estimate for the latest month.

Why We Are Consulting

While our current publication model has the benefit of affording quick and credible estimates of GDP, the proposed approach would result in estimates of monthly GDP as well as allowing ONS to publish a quicker balanced picture of the whole economy and a higher quality first estimate of GDP. The move of the Index of Services gives further clarity to the publication of economic statistics and is the final key step in reducing the “see-saw” narrative that can emanate from statistics on a related theme being published at different times. It is also noteworthy that the publication of monthly GDP estimates would consolidate the UK’s position at the forefront of short term GDP estimation.

The proposal is in part a response to two major reviews that commented on ONS’ approach to publishing GDP – the Barker-Ridgeway National Statistics Quality Review and Sir Charles Bean’s Independent Review of UK Economics Statistics. Both concluded it was important for ONS to strike a balance between the timeliness of GDP estimates to aid policy-makers and the available data – and therefore the potential for revisions[1]. In addition, ONS has recently moved to publishing statistics according to their “theme” to simplify interpretation for users. As part of this work ONS committed to reviewing the timing of the Index of Services release; following a period of internal parallel running ONS has proved the feasibility of moving the Index of Services release to the Short Term Economic Indicator theme day. In this context a wider review of the GDP publication model is prudent.

[1] Short term revisions to GDP are small, with absolute average revisions of 0.03 percentage points between the current Preliminary Estimate and the Second Estimate and 0.05 percentage points between the current Second Estimate and the Quarterly National Accounts.



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