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    How will it affect me? Exploring the data

  • Posted on October 24, 2017 by

    Jobcentre modelHave you ever wanted to find out how the headline data will affect you? The NAO analyses a lot of data in our work and we’ve increasingly been allowing you to explore this data, where possible. Recent interactive data tools we’ve created cover consumer protection cases, the housing market and homelessness, and the Whole of Government Accounts. In light of the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) plans about the future of Jobcentre Plus, our latest interactive data model allows you to explore the impact of its plans on journey times to jobcentres around England.

    Images are a natural way for our brains to absorb information. In our earlier blog post, Trendy NAO: visualising data, we outlined the many ways we’re helping people to understand data. For example, creating pictorial summaries in our reports (such as in Benefits sanctions and HMRC’s approach to collecting tax from high net worth individuals). We’ve also produced interactive ‘data visualisations’ to enable you to view and explore data in detail. For example, our recent Homelessness in England visualisation allows you to explore the broad trends identified by our report on homelessness and build a richer understanding about what this means for different parts of the country.

    We’ve talked about a number of these tools before in previous blog-posts:

    Do you feel protected as a consumer? outlined our interactive tool on Citizens Advice Bureau consumer service cases, which also gives an insight into how consumers in Britain purchase different products and services.
    VCSE examplesSMEs to VCSEs: barriers to benefits introduced our interactive map showing innovative ways local public bodies are working with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and voluntary, community or social enterprises (VCSEs).
    Data visualisation
    Summing the parts of the whole (of government accounts) explains the scale and complexity of the Whole of Government Accounts and why we’ve created interactive access to the data on our Snapshot of UK finances page.

    A question of time: how changing the Jobcentre Plus network will impact on people

    Our latest interactive data tool, the jobcentre journey time model, provides an overview of planned changes to DWP’s jobcentre estate and the estimated impact these changes have on the time it takes for people to travel to their nearest jobcentre site.

    It builds on a Memorandum we produced for the Works and Pensions Select Committee in June 2016 as part of its inquiry into the future of Jobcentre Plus. That publication included information on the total number of jobcentres in Great Britain, the average journey time it took to get to the nearest jobcentre and how this differed between people living in urban and rural areas.

    Our new interactive model now presents data on:

    • the baseline jobcentre estate pre-January 2017;
    • the future estate design as proposed by DWP in its consultation published in January 2017; and
    • the updated future estate design as outlined by DWP in its consultation response in July 2017, set out in this DWP statement.

    Model framework photo
    There are, of course, some limitations to our model:


    As a proxy for where people live it uses 171,372 output areas, which are geographical areas defined by the Office for National Statistics that typically include around 125 households in each.

    Kids icon

    It doesn’t take into account the capacity of existing or new jobcentres, the costs to run those sites or the people who staff them.


    We’ve had to make assumptions on travel times, particularly to new sites, to deal with constraints in our data sets.


    It assumes people will use public transport to travel from their home to their nearest jobcentre, whereas in practice, some may access jobcentre services using a car, walking, a mobile service or remotely via online or postal services.

    Despite these limitations, this interactive data model provides deep insight into the impact national decisions can have at a local level. It enables users to visualise journey times to their nearest jobcentres ‘as is’, and then with a flick of a switch, to see which existing jobcentres are planned to be closed, where new sites are expected to be opened and how these changes will affect their travel time from where they live (using output area as an approximation) to their nearest jobcentre site.

    As always, we would welcome your comments and invite you to contact us if you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog-post. We will also shortly publish a technical audit insight paper, setting out in more detail the data and assumptions which drive this interactive model.

    About the author: Elliott White is an operational researcher and Head of Modelling at the NAO. Formerly a member of the Government Operational Research Service, he has experience working in policy analysis and business planning at the Department for Education and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.




    2 responses to “How will it affect me? Exploring the data”

    1. Jonathan Hall says:

      I am interested in your job centre journey time model post. I was wondering whether you have incorporated an element of service frequency in the assessments, for example in the modelling process only use bus stops with a defined service frequency (say 1 bus per hour)? This would give an indication as to whether the journey time you use in the visualisations is achievable throughout the day? Many bus services in rural areas operate for example once or twice a day, for example inbound to a market town in the morning, and then the return journey in the afternoon? Then you might get a better assessment of accessibility to job centres in rural areas.

      Another way might be to repeat the modelling process a number of times eg 2 outbound journeys in the morning, and 2 return journeys in the afternoon, and then for each origin point calculate an average journey time and use this in the visualisations?

      Also consider using another assessment eg number of job centres which can be reached within 30 mins travel time by public transport from an origin point.

      • Elliott White says:

        Many thanks for your comment, Jonathan. We do fully appreciate that the frequency of public transport services can be a real issue, particularly for people living in more rural areas. Unfortunately our jobcentre journey time model was not able to incorporate frequency into the measurement of travel time because we have constrained access to the Department for Transport’s (DfT) journey time model, which is called TRACC and owned by Basemap. A detailed overview of the methodology used to produce the DfT’s journey time information, used in our model, is available in these Journey time statistics Notes and Guidance (PDF – 1,047KB). However, I do note that our model is based on a like-for-like comparison, so the transport frequency issue is the same in both the before and after presentation of the data.
        Elliott White, NAO Head of Modelling

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