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Our annual report

Robert Burgess

The 2017-18 year has been a very successful one for the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) with increased impact across our social research activities and a strong financial performance.

As Chairman of the Trustees, it is my pleasure to deliver the 2017-2018 annual report, along with audited financial statements for the year to 30 June 2018.

I have been especially pleased this year with the renewed focus on the importance of "quality" at NatCen, whether with respect to our excellence in qualitative methods, interviewing in sensitive circumstances or new initiatives emanating from our Survey Response Rate Board, chaired by the Chief Executive. NatCen has always had a fine reputation for being a high quality, independent and trusted organisation, of course, but the refreshing sense of priority and innovation in this area is most welcome.

As NatCen approaches 2019, its 50th anniversary, it is not just a time to reflect on our many successes but to look forward with new impetus to where we want to be. Our strategy, "Towards 2025". sets us on the path to become The National Centre for Social Research, the place customers come first for research and evidence on social issues. As a charity, the high quality of our research, rather than commerciality, is at the heart of these aspirations. For example, NatCen is at an advanced stage in its preparations to launch a new Methodology and Innovation Hub in September 2018, under the leadership of Gerry Nicolaas, who joins us from Ipsos-MORI. We will be looking proactively at new and innovative methodologies, including in developing further the award-winning NatCen Panel.

We saw the importance of quality in much of our work this year - for example, in defining the "gig economy", providing estimates of numbers of people working in it and detailed information about the characteristics of that work. The report had notable political impact and was cited in the Government's response to the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, the Good Work Plan. And, as the public has been increasingly divided over the future of Britain, it is crucial that NatCen is an independent voice in the big debates that help people understand society. With Britain's membership of the EU and Scottish independence high on the political agenda, our online projects "What Scotland Thinks" and "What UK Thinks" continue to play an important role as a source of independent information on public attitudes to these issues. We are delighted to have secured new funding from the ESRC which will ensure the sites are sustained throughout the ongoing period of Brexit negotiations.

High quality implies relevance to the public debate, as well as accuracy. The former has come into sharper focus this year with the convening by ScotCen (the Scottish arm of the organisation) of the Scottish Advisory Group on Evidence for Policy Making (SAGE-PM), a group of key influencers under the chair of Professor Sir Ian Diamond. As further powers are transferred from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament, the group has been taking a fresh look at the big themes affecting the Scottish economy and society, the extent to which the evidence base supports these and how best to ensure policy and public engagement with the evidence.

Our customer reach and impact has continued to grow over the year with new partnerships and involvement in Research Centres, a greater range of evaluations for customers, cognitive interviewing and methodological support as well a full range of qualitative and quantitative work, including secondary analysis. We continue to train many of the social scientists of the future through NatCen Learning. As part of this report, we have provided a separate section on our activities and on public benefit, presenting case studies of some of our work that has had impact.

At the heart of our success remains our on-going excellence in designing and delivering many of the largest and most complex surveys and longitudinal studies needed for policy making. Our customers put their trust in our capability and wealth of experience in this area, for example by renewing their contracts for the English Housing Survey and Understanding Society, in awarding us the National Child Development Study (in partnership with Kantar Public) and in supporting the consortia we are part of for the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) and the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyle (Natsal). These contracts provide a welcome endorsement from our customers and a solid base for our survey work into the future.

Of course, we recognise that the on-going emphasis on quality and impact can only be achieved if we have a financial model that works for NatCen. It is particularly reassuring to note that this is currently the case.

Our own financial performance has seen continued improvement, with revenues increasing to £33.4 million and an operating surplus of £1.25 million. In addition, our pension deficit reduced by £3.4 million in the year (an actuarial improvement) resulting in an overall improvement in our financial position of £4.6million. This is another excellent result for the organisation under its current Leadership Team. We retain an established long term plan in place to address our pension's deficit as defined in our reserves policy. Looking ahead, the contract awards already made for 2018-19 should help us grow our revenues further next year.

Our role as Trustees is to provide stewardship of the organisation. We have overseen many changes to modernise and streamline our organisation and as a Board we are confident that NatCen is in a stronger position to continue to deliver the high quality and impactful research that society needs.

Finally, as always, I would like to thank my colleagues on the Board for a job well done this year, for their ongoing commitment to NatCen and their continued willingness to lend their expertise, experience, challenge and insight. I would like to thank the dedicated staff at NatCen who develop the research and disseminate our findings. You are all part of an organisation that we can rightly be proud of and we look forward to celebrating those successes next year as we reach our 50th Birthday on 30 April 2019.

Professor Sir Robert Burgess
Chairman of the Board of Trustees

Read the 2017-18 Annual report