Leadership announcements

Annual Report and Accounts 2019

Introduction by Professor Sir Robert Burgess
  • Authors:
    Guy Goodwin
    Professor Sir Robert Burgess
  • Publishing date:
    1 December 2019

As Chair of the Trustees, it is my pleasure to deliver the 2018-2019 annual report, along with audited financial statements for the year to 30 June 2019.

Fifty Years of Shaping Social Change

Our charity was created as Social and Community Planning Research (SCPR) in 1969, fifty years ago, and towards the end of a decade of considerable social change.

Today, we are living through another period of social transition in the UK as we face the opportunities and consequences of demographic change, including our ageing population and our retiring "baby boomers". Concerns on social inequalities mount, for example with falling life expectancy for women in the most deprived areas. Educational opportunities have expanded while working lives are more uncertain. Our policy makers are visibly challenged by the demands and complexity of Brexit, following the EU referendum vote in 2016, as well as by issues from Climate Change to #MeToo. They need the social research community's help to make sense of our changing world and the consequences.

At the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), we believe social research has the power to make life better. But, at a time when experts and evidence are being openly challenged, it is more important than ever for us to have seats at the right policy tables and ensure the voices of those who take part in our studies are heard by those who can make a difference. Fifty years on, we remain unique in Britain and our work and influence are easy to find. We continue to be recognised for ground breaking projects in the public policy arena on physical and mental health, children and families, work and welfare, criminal justice, equalities and problem gambling to name but a few.

Our fiftieth anniversary year has been another successful one for NatCen with numerous examples of positive impact and a strong financial performance. To mark our anniversary, we have been delivering a series of high-profile events on some of the issues that matter to policy makers, MPs, charities, academics, the national media and the public, both sharing our findings and exploring how our research can be used for public good. We have delivered the findings from this year's British Social Attitudes Survey to audiences in the House of Commons and looked at differences in children's life chances at the Roger Jowell Memorial Lecture. A special event considered the challenges that women in social sciences face and celebrated their achievements. We will launch briefings shortly on social trends in the UK, a report on the unresolved public policy issues that continue to challenge society as we head into the 2020s, and the impact of mental health and life satisfaction on educational attainment.

High Quality Research

The high quality of our research is at the heart of all we do, underpinned by our strategy "Towards 2025". We want to be the first port of call for policy makers for evidence on any matters affecting our society. Our numerous stakeholders who gathered at the House of Lords to mark our 50th anniversary in April 2019 are a testament to the progress the organisation has made and the influence it has today. We conduct research across subject areas and can use all four modes of data collection approach to reach people - face-to-face, phone, online or postal - individually or in any combination. Our launch of the Methodology and Innovation Hub has put us back at the heart of methods work, enabling us to conduct web and online surveys cost effectively, run randomised controlled trials and complex evaluations, and undertake qualitative research in a range of areas such as child protection, extremism and the lives of prisoners.

We have recently announced our partnership for a fourth wave of The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NatSal), showcasing our ability to carry out complex national data collections and interview anyone anywhere to talk about sensitive subjects. Our founders were great advocates of social surveys and longitudinal studies so we are excited to be conducting the next wave of the National Child Development Study, the gold standard longitudinal study started in 1958.

Our British Social Attitudes Survey and NatCen Panel continue to relay back what people are thinking to policy makers. This year alone, we have taken centre stage both in the press and in Parliament with our work on attitudes to Brexit, Common Law Marriage, same-sex civil partnerships, Shared Parental Leave, the decline of religious identity and assisted dying.

Financial Stability

High quality work that has an impact on the world around us can only be achieved effectively if we have a sustainable financial model that works for NatCen. It remains reassuring to note that this is currently the case. The forward-looking business plan shows that this position will remain for the foreseeable future. Our financial performance has seen continued and planned growth this year, for the third successive year, with revenues increasing to £35 million and an operating surplus of £1.6 million before one-off service charges relating to the defined benefit pension scheme. This is a very good result for the organisation under its current Leadership Team.

Our pension deficit, in line with most schemes, has seen an increase in the current period, which requires us to book a revaluation charge in excess of £5 million against this year's results. But we retain an established and orderly long-term plan to address our pension deficit, as defined in our reserves policy, and this remains unaffected.

Looking ahead, the contract awards already made for 2019-20, which are above expectations, should help us to continue to improve our revenues and cash reserves.

Role of Trustees

Our role as Trustees is to provide stewardship of the organisation. We will continue to oversee ongoing changes to improve, modernise and streamline our organisation, and as a Board we are confident that NatCen is in a strong position to continue to deliver the high quality and impactful research that society needs.

Finally, I would like to thank my Trustees for all of their input into the organisation's work, especially given they give their time freely to support NatCen, as well as congratulating the Chief Executive, leadership team and staff at NatCen for their many successes. We face the future with fresh confidence and look forward with new impetus to the next 50 years.