Karen Dunnell

Karen Dunnell

Karen Hope Dunnell (born 16 June 1946) has been National Statistician, Registrar General and Director of the Office for National Statistics of the United Kingdom since 1 September, 2005.


Born Karen Williamson in Los Angeles, USA, she moved to Britain when she was a young child and was educated at Maidstone Grammar School for Girls and Bedford College, London. Her father was a US serviceman during World War II and her mother, who is English, was a teacher. Karen Dunnell has been married twice to Keith Dunnell (1969-76) and Professor Michael Adler (1979-94). She has two adult daughters by her second marriage and two grandchildren. She lives in London and has a home in the Var in SE France.


Karen Dunnell studied sciences at school because she wanted to go into medicine. However, a growing interest in politics and society led her to study sociology at Bedford College, London, from where she graduated in 1967.cite journal | last =Joyce | first =Helen | title =Inside National Statistics | journal =Significance | volume =2 | issue =4 |pages =pp. 174–176 | month =December | year =2005 | url =http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/action/doSearch?action=runSearch&type=advanced&result=true&prevSearch=%2Bauthorsfield%3A(Dunnell%2CKaren) | accessdate =2007-09-22 | doi =10.1111/j.1740-9713.2005.00132.x ] She began her career as a health care researcher with the Institute of Community Studies, where much of her work involved healthcare surveys, and, in 1972, she wrote a book, "Medicine Takers, Prescribers and Hoarders" with Ann Cartwright, [cite book | last =Dunnell | first =K. | coauthors =A. Cartwright | title =Medicine Takers, Prescribers and Hoarders | publisher =Routledge & Kegan Paul | year =1972 | location =London |id=OCLC: 632006 | isbn =0710073518 ] . This established a measure of morbidity and the relationship between medicines acquired through the NHS and over-the-counter. Dunnell then joined the Department of Epidemiology & Public Health at St Thomas' Hospital Medical School, working on multi-disciplinary projects alongside doctors, social workers, statisticians and economists, including a major project that measured the cost of caring for people with severe disabilities in the community compared with the cost of caring for them in institutions.

She joined the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys (OPCS) in 1974, as a social survey officer in the Survey Division, where she stayed for 15 years, working on, among other things, two major surveys. One of these was the UK's contribution to the World Fertility Survey, published as a book, "Family Fertility", in 1976. This measured cohabitation for the first time and first asked the question, now a standard, "At what age did you first have sexual intercourse?". The other studied the work of community nurses, using an intensive survey combined with diary-keeping. She was promoted to Assistant Director, overseeing all health surveys in the OPCS. These included surveys on drinking and smoking and a major survey on disability that established what proportion of people in different age groups had different disabilities. She was responsible, in this post, for liaising with the Department of Health.

In 1990, she moved from working with health surveys in the OPCS to medical statistics. When OPCS merged with the Central Statistical Office to form the ONS in 1996, she became Director of Demography and Health Statistics, working on general practice statistics and inequalities in health, and established the "Health Statistics Quarterly" journal. In 1999, she moved to a central post responsible for launching "National Statistics" and dealing with the arrival of Len Cook, the first National Statistician, in 2000. She was promoted to Group Director in Social Statistics in 2000, managing health, demography, population, labour market and social reporting and was temporarily promoted to the Board of the ONS in 2001 in the run-up to the 2001 census. A major reorganisation, which divided the activities of ONS into 'sources' and 'analysis', followed and Dunnell was given the job of setting up the new "Sources" Directorate, bringing together household and business surveys, the infrastructure that supported them, the statistical modernisation programme and planning for the 2011 Census. She took up this post on the ONS Executive in 2002.

National Statistician

Karen Dunnell was appointed National Statistician and Director of the Office for National Statistics from 1 September 2005 at a time when the government was being criticised for the quality, credibility and uses to which it put the statistics generated both by ONS and by governments departments. [http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page8038.asp "National Statistician - Director office for National Statistics"] , 10 Downing Street press release, 4 August 2005, retrieved 5 June 2007.] [http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/economics/article551779.ece "Veteran insider to run the ONS balancing act"] , Times Online, 5 August 2005, retrieved 5 June 2007.] Soon afterwards, Gordon Brown, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced that, following the success of the idea of independence for the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England as a means of gaining trust in the its interest-rate decisions, a form of independence should be applied to ONS so that its data could also gain public trust. Dunnell will, from April 2008, be accountable to Parliament via a Statistics Board, to be known as the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), rather than, as previously, via a Treasury minister.

A government policy inherited by Karen Dunnell as National Statistician aroused controversy. Following the efficiency reviews initiated by the Chancellor and Prime Minister (viz. "Review of Public Sector Relocation" by Sir Michael Lyons, 2003-4, and "Releasing Resources to the Front Line", Sir Peter Gershon, 2004), the government adopted a policy, criticised by unions, of dispersal of certain public service posts and functions out of London. [http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk./consultations_and_legislation/lyons/consult_lyons_index.cfm Independent Review of public sector relocation] , H. M. Treasury, 9 July 2004] [http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk./spending_review/spend_sr04/associated_documents/spending_sr04_efficiency.cfm Releasing resources for the frontline: Independent Review of Public Sector Efficiency] , H. M. Treasury, 12 July 2004] The policy was initially applied to ONS during Len Cook's tenure as National Statistician but after Karen Dunnell succeeded to the post, ONS accelerated the policy of relocating the Office for National Statistics away from London and concentrating staff in its offices in Titchfield, near Southampton, and in Newport, South Wales, to which the ONS headquarters has moved. The announcement, in January 2007, of the almost complete closure of the ONS's London offices by 2010 reversed a decision to retain a sizeable office in the capital. [ [http://www.ft.com/cms/s/4093ec26-0ed2-11dc-b444-000b5df10621.html "Fears for quality as statisticians scatter"] , Financial Times, 30 May 2007, retrieved 5 June 2007.] [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/6267087.stm "ONS set to close down London HQ"] , BBC news report, 16 January 2007, retrieved 9 June 2007.] This relocation policy, together with substantial expenditure cutbacks in recent government spending settlements, resulted in disquiet among London-based staff whose representatives have reported morale problems and a high staff turnover rate among staff still in London. [ [https://www.fda.org.uk/dman/Document.phx/Home+page+items/FDA+evidence+to+the+Treasury+sub-committee+inquiry+into+the+efficiency+of+the+Chancellor's+departments+(Office+for+National+Statistics)?folderId=Home%2Bpage%2Bitems&cmd=download Evidence for Treasury Sub Committee Inquiry into the efficiency of the Chancellor’s Departments] , written submission by First Division Association, para. 2.2, 9 May 2007, retrieved 5 June 2007.] To set against the risks to data quality of any loss of expertise, especially among London-based staff who are unwilling to move, including analysts in National Accounts and in health statistics, Ms. Dunnell has defended ONS implementation of government policy on civil service relocation. In the face of some Bank of England disquiet, reported in 2007 to the Treasury Select Committee, about risks to economic data quality, combined with London staff opposition (including a lack of confidence in management expressed in a staff survey highlighted by staff unions), she has asserted that the ONS Board has agreed a process of managed and gradual change to take account of these risks, building up expertise in Newport before shifting functions there. She has also cited the benefits to the local economy, the skills of existing ONS staff in Newport and access to universities and other resources in the region as well as the benefits of operating key functions from a single location. [ [http://www.ft.com/cms/s/d664845a-1237-11dc-b963-000b5df10621.html "Statistics officers get the measure of relocation"] , article by Karen Dunnell, Financial Times, 4 June 2007, retrieved 6 June 2007.]

Other roles

Outside the OPCS, Karen Dunnell has been a member of the British Sociology Association and was on the committee of its BSA Medical Sociology Group. She later chaired the Society for Social Medicine. She is a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, is a visiting professor at the London School of Hygiene and research associate at the London School of Economics. [cite web | title =The National Statistician | url = http://www.statistics.gov.uk/about_ns/statistician.asp | format =HTML | accessdate =2007-09-22] She has also been a Visiting Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford.


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