Leadership announcements

Annual Report and Accounts 2022

Introduction by Sir Stuart Etherington

We have seen many of the pandemic-related restrictions relaxed or removed over the last year, marking the beginning of a period of living with COVID-19. Whilst many people in Britain have moved on from social distancing and the wearing of face masks, the impact of the pandemic on people’s lives has continued to be the focus of a large part of our research.

It is against that backdrop that I introduce this year’s annual report, along with the audited financial statements, covering the year to end June 2022. I am pleased to report another successful year for the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) with revenue growth and many examples of our studies having positive impact.

The work that NatCen conducted in supporting the Office for National Statistics’ COVID-19 Infection Study (CIS) concluded at the end of April 2022 and we have been proud to have contributed to a better understanding of COVID-19, infection rates and vaccination efficacy. The study was also an invaluable source of work and revenue for NatCen while our regular face-to-face interviewing studies were paused or moved to alternative modes of data collection.

The pandemic has still been front of mind, particularly when considering the short-term effects of COVID-19 on society. This has included new reports from the Survey of Childcare and Early Years Providers, the Study of Early Education and Development and the Mental Health of Children and Young People, as well as the regular reporting from surveys on family resources, health, diet and nutrition, travel and housing. Other research conducted in 2021-22 has explored the impact of the pandemic on LGBTQ+ communities, as well as focusing on how our mental health has been impacted at different life stages.

The British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, published in October 2021, also had a COVID-19 related theme, exploring public attitudes towards work, health and trust and confidence in government, along with a range of other topics. The report was launched at an online event and achieved significant national media coverage. This was followed up with new BSA data, commissioned by the King’s Fund and published in March 2022, which reported that public satisfaction in the NHS was at its lowest level for 25 years.

We are bringing together the findings from the various research studies related to COVID-19 to paint a picture of the pandemic’s impact on people’s lives across the life course as well as its legacy in our Society Watch 2022 report “They Think It’s All Over”. The report will be published in mid-July, alongside a launch event at the British Academy, and provides a compendium of evidence to inform those policy makers challenged to address many of the resulting health and social issues as we return to a “new normal”.

Looking ahead, the economic outlook for the United Kingdom is relatively bleak in the wake of Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the war in Ukraine. There have been cost-of-living challenges in recent months, as prices have risen, and predictions by the Bank of England of potentially a long period of recession from later this year. We believe we are well placed at NatCen to navigate any such recession with a strong cash balance and a higher than usual level of already commissioned research on relevant topics.

In terms of our finances this year, I am delighted to report another successful year with positive financial results including a healthy annual surplus. Our revenues have risen to a record £49m with a net surplus in excess of £2 million. This rise in our income is largely due to the work NatCen has undertaken in supporting the COVID-19 Infection Study. Our role in this work has finished and, as the country navigates its way through the pandemic and the period of economic uncertainty, this allows NatCen to firmly return to its business as usual.

In recent months, NatCen has been focused on picking up its regular large-scale studies that were previously put on hold during 2020. The majority of this fieldwork has now resumed. The transition back to our regular surveys has not been straightforward with the need to recruit interviewers in a difficult and competitive recruitment market. We have been grateful for commissioners’ patience over this period as we continue to right-size our panel to meet increased demands and new boosts to our surveys.

On the financial side, I am also pleased to see the progress we are making in tackling the NatCen pension deficit. NatCen’s strategy and finances are based on achieving an annual surplus which supports the repayment of this deficit in full, whilst also providing resources to reinvest in the growth and development of the charity. We are doing that currently and it has been good to see the pension deficit fall significantly again this year.

We have been trialling a new hybrid model of working for our staff, combining in-office days with working from home. We have also seen a great deal of growth in the last year, increasing our staff team to 380 colleagues and our field interviewer workforce to 700, with a view to reaching over 1000 interviewers by the end of 2022 as demand for our field services increase.

As part of NatCen’s strategy for growth, a new Centre for Social Survey Transformation and Centre for Children and Families have been launched. These new Centres of excellence represent specific areas of development within our portfolio. We are also excited to have launched NatCen International, taking our research offer more widely to global commissioners.

Our Centre for Social Survey Transformation has been particularly crucial in setting out a framework for assessing the effectiveness of social surveys, a process for remodelling them and in developing experiments of new methods, providing leadership and guidance in alternative methods of data collection at a time when some commissioners have been revisiting future specifications for social surveys.

Trustees and the executive leadership team have also spent time in 2021-22 looking at how best to develop and refresh NatCen in the coming years to maintain its relevance and impact in the period to end 2029. In the light of these discussions, we expect to revise our organisational strategy shortly, building on and enhancing our existing strategy “Towards 2025”.

We remain ambitious for our organisation and expect to be able to offer more new services and products in the coming years, including over the next year in supporting commissioners with larger evaluations and more routine data collections.

There is no doubt, in my view, that NatCen has an important role to play in the future in collecting and analysing data from the general public, to provide evidence on social issues, and to inform and guide policy to improve society. This could not be achieved without the excellent support and dedication from our entire staff team, from our field interviewers and biomedical workers, researchers, analysts, to our operational colleagues who keep everything working smoothly in the background.

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, my heartfelt thanks also go to NatCen’s Leadership Team, and its Chief Executive, Guy Goodwin, who continue to steer the organisation well at a time of numerous external influences and challenges.

The Board of Trustees provides stewardship of NatCen and we oversee changes to improve, modernise and streamline the organisation, so that we can offer high quality, independent research at the best possible value. We are continuing to strengthen our Board each year, enhancing our expertise especially in business development, social research, and public affairs, in line with our ambitions for the organisation. I would like to thank all of our Trustees for their support this year, which they give freely to NatCen to help us achieve our goals.

Lastly, but certainly not least, I want to acknowledge the vital contribution by the thousands of members of the public who agree to be interviewed and complete our surveys. Every year we run numerous surveys, each with different levels of involvement and engagement, and their response ensures the data that NatCen collects is relevant, current, and reflective of society. We will continue to take the public’s voice to those in power so that it is heard in decision-taking.