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Technology / Data

Office for National Statistics Wants to Turn a Big Data Eye on Company Ownership, Balance Sheets

The UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) is seeking a partner to provide it with “timely and detailed information” on UK company data, including the financial balance sheets of all United Kingdom registered companies.

It’s a big ask, given the UK’s notoriously opaque and sprawling sets of company data, but the independent organisation – which is responsible for collecting and publishing a wide range of national statistics – says it needs the data to better track Foreign Direct Investment, and “construction” statistics.

The procurement exercise comes as the government has committed to introducing a publicly accessible register of the beneficial owners of overseas companies that own or buy UK property; a draft bill (the Draft Registration of Overseas Entities Bill) is being deliberated by Parliament, after oral evidence was taken last month.

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The ONS is seeking not just balance sheet information but corporate structure and ownership information, encompassing “control and minority relationships, and information on the global parent, associate and subsidiary businesses”.

The request came in a public notice posted to a European tenders page today.

The ONS had not responded to a request for further comment, including on estimated budget, as Computer Business Review published.

Company Data: 4.2 Million Business Registered in UK 

The procurement exercise comes as the number of companies registered with Companies House continues to soar. At end-March 2019, there were 4,202,044 companies registered in the UK, with 182,742 new registrations in Q1 alone.

An ONS procurement officer noted: “This information is of interest to improve ONS’s financial, business and international surveys, including foreign direct investment and construction statistics.”

They added: “We also require: the description of principal activity from the directors’/strategic report; standard industrial classification of the business; trading address; turnover; operating profits; and number of employees. In all cases, unconsolidated accounts information is preferred, but consolidated data can be accepted if nothing else is available and there is a “consolidated” marker.”

“In addition, we require data that will allow us to understand detailed business relationship and ownership information for these companies.”

During the procurement process, the ONS will require detailed descriptions of the information which can be provided, the quality and coverage of the data, and will be requesting the provision of a demonstrative data set, it said, without specifying an estimated total value for the contract.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) says that “there is a realistic possibility the scale of money laundering impacting the UK annually is in the hundreds of billions of pounds.”

As NGO Transparency International notes, however: “The Draft Bill only provides an annual ‘snapshot’ of beneficial ownership information, which means unlike the
UK’s PSC [People with Significant Control] register the information it would contain would not be ‘current’ and therefore ‘accurate’, as required by 5AMLD [a European anti money laundering directive]/

“This means that changes to this information throughout the year are not captured and could lead to misleading information being submitted to conceal the true identity of companies’ owners. The register of overseas entities should mirror the UK’s PSC register in this regard, which requires an annual confirmation statement of PSCs as well as event driven updates, to capture changes of beneficial ownership information in a timely manner.

Does your company provide this kind of data, or is it capable of scraping it from public records? Computer Business Review would like to hear from you

Read also: These “Data Trust” Pilots are a Taste of the Future

 
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CBR Staff Writer

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