Annual Report and Accounts 2016
As Chair of the Trustees, and on their behalf, I am presenting this annual report for the National Centre for Social Research (referred to throughout this report as “NatCen”) with the audited financial statements for the year to 30th June 2016.
The year 2015-16 has been a year of transition for NatCen. It started with an interim leadership team committed to making the financial and organisational changes needed, as well as investing in new technology and enhanced capacity, to ensure that we have a sustainable future and a robust business plan. It finished with a new permanent Leadership Team, headed by Guy Goodwin as Chief Executive, with encouraging signs of improved organisational performance and a forward, already commissioned, programme of work which will deliver enhanced public benefit and mean a growth in income available to the charity in 2016-17.
The changes we have made in 2015-16 are welcome and should bring greater stability in the future after a period of four difficult financial years (partly as a consequence of the difficult economic circumstances and partly because of the growth in competition from the commercial sector). They enable a more positive outlook short term, providing a stronger foundation for the further work that the Leadership Team recognises still needs to be done to build the charity’s long term resilience.
New contracts won in 2015-16 for Growing Up in Scotland, the English Housing Survey, Taking Part (in partnership with IPSOS-Mori) and Understanding Society (in partnership with TNS-BMRB) are particularly worthy of note. In terms of our policy research, the most successful area of our work has been in Early Years, for example with the Study of Early Education and Development (SEED), the Evaluation of Early Implementation of 30 hours Free Childcare and a qualitative study to look at the quality of inter-parental relationships commissioned by the Early Intervention Foundation.
We retain our position as the leading organisation in conducting high quality health, food and diet surveys and research, including through our unique national nurses field force. NatCen continues to conduct the flagship Health Survey for England, Scottish Health Survey and National Diet and Nutrition Survey, as well as several key Longitudinal studies. Our Health policy work continues to grow, including an analysis project to look at the impact of Tobacco Control Measures, various evaluations including a mental health employment pilot and a secondary analysis project on disability for the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
At NatCen, we are driven by the belief that social research has the power to make life better. Our research works for society by providing a rich understanding of people’s views, circumstances and behaviours to underpin social policy-making and help address the many challenges society faces.
NatCen is committed to delivering public benefit. As part of this report, we have developed a new section that highlights these benefits and presents case studies of some of our work that has made impact during the year.
Our focus this year has been in four areas: producing high quality research; communicating what we learn; reflecting what we find back to the public; and tackling today’s methodological challenges. We use several case studies in this report to demonstrate how NatCen has met this challenge, which include the development of a new survey, a first for the UK, that combines high quality methods with the greater speed needed in an online world. Our What UK Thinks EU project became the go to place for public attitudes on the EU Referendum for both policymakers and the public with the website receiving almost one million hits in the months leading to the vote. We continue to secure many column inches about our research in the UK press and have a growing presence on social media.
This impressive impact has been achieved despite the difficult financial background. Our business plan forecast a loss of £2.75 million in 2015-16 in relation to our main activities, partly attributable to new investment. In reality, our loss on these activities was slightly smaller at £2.23 million, before the impact of one-off pension scheme curtailment costs, and we are currently forecasting a return to an annual surplus during the next financial year (2016-17).
In March 2016, the charity closed its defined benefit pension scheme in agreement with the pension trustees and the scheme members, incurring a one-off curtailment cost treated as an exceptional item for the purpose of these accounts. The charity suffered an actuarial loss on the scheme and this is also included in the statement of financial activities in the report. We have an established long term plan in place to address our pensions deficit as defined in our reserves policy.
Our role as Trustees is to provide stewardship of the organisation. We have overseen many changes within the organisation 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.
I would like to thank my colleagues on the Board for their ongoing commitment to NatCen and their continued willingness to lend their expertise, experience, challenge and insight. In addition, I would like to thank the enthusiastic, skilled and committed staff at NatCen who continue to develop our research and disseminate our findings, thereby contributing to the process of policy-making. My colleagues on the Board join with me in wishing them every continued success.