Changing government economic measurement, spending and regulation

Credit: Laura Ockel/Unsplash

Diane Coyle’s research at the University of Cambridge has changed the way that the UK government measures economic activity, distributes public money and regulates digital markets.

Her research (and role as a senior adviser to the Office of National Statistics, ONS) has changed how GDP is measured in the UK by demonstrating how the ONS had been underestimating some productivity gains associated with the digital economy. This alteration added 0.2% per annum to the UK’s estimated GDP, increasing growth in 2018–19 from 1.3% to 1.5%, a difference of about £4 billion. Cambridge, led by the Bennett Institute for Public Policy, is now one of the hubs in the UK’s major new Productivity Institute.

Coyle also provided guidance that informed the UK government’s introduction of new competition policy tools and regulatory strategies in the context of the digital economy. This research underpinned her role on the government-commissioned Treasury’s Digital Competition Expert Panel (the Furman Panel). It persuaded the UK government to establish a Digital Markets Unit, and prompted the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate online advertising.

Finally, her research has changed how and where government money is spent by changing how the Treasury makes cost–benefit calculations. In correcting a major geographical bias in government spending, this reform helps address the North–South economic imbalance and contributes to the UK government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.

Coyle’s findings have also had an impact outside the UK. A key mechanism for governments to become informed of her research was Coyle’s participation in high-level international forums, including the G7 Finance Ministers’ meeting in Canada (June 2018), and the Canadian government-funded Working Group on the Modern Economy within the Canada–UK Policy Forum, where she provided expert advice on data issues and the digital economy.

She has also advised the European Union and in the USA on the content of a bill to encourage competition in social media (the DASHBOARD Act).

Coyle conducted her research in collaboration with colleagues at Cambridge’s Bennett Institute and in partnership with researchers at Manchester University and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, and with Adrian Weller at Cambridge’s Department of Engineering.