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Improving Official Statistics

Obituary: Bill McLennan (1942-2022)

Bill McLennan, a former head of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), who had also headed the UK Government Statistical Service (GSS), died on 19 March 2022 at the age of 80.

In 1992, Bill was appointed Director of the Central Statistical Office (CSO) and head of the GSS of the United Kingdom, the first person from outside the UK to hold this post. The UK statistical system had been through a challenging period. He recognised the fundamental role of official statistics for democracy and that the work of the GSS needed to be better understood. 

As one of his many initiatives, Bill persuaded the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Norman Lamont, to reduce ministerial access to economic statistics in advance of publication and to permit statistics to be released independently of ministers. He produced the Official Statistics Code of Practice, first published in April 1995, with the aim of promoting high standards and maintaining public confidence in official statistics. During his tenure, he proposed the merger of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys and the CSO into the Office for National Statistics, and gained agreement for this from Prime Minister John Major.

In 1995 Bill returned to Australia to become the Australian Statistician. Bill’s strong leadership style helped the ABS gain a reputation as one of the world’s best national statistical agencies.

Bill was elected Rapporteur the United Nations Statistical Commission in 1994 and Chairman of this Commission in 1995. It was in 1994 that the Commission endorsed the first version of the Fundamental Principles for Official Statistics.

Bill retired as Australian Statistician in 2000. He was awarded a  Commander of the British Empire (CBE) and a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for significant contributions to UK and Australian statistics respectively. A more detailed obituary is provided at Obituary: Bill McLennan.