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Our annual report

Robert Burgess

As Chair of the Trustees, it is my pleasure to deliver the 2019/20 annual report, along with audited financial statements for the year to 30 June 2020. 

This will be my last annual report as the Chair of Trustees as, at February 2021, I will have served NatCen for the full term allowed. It also comes at a remarkable moment as we end the year in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic with great uncertainty for both the economy and for individuals in the United Kingdom and more widely.

The past year is best split into two parts. During the period to end February 2020, prior to the pandemic, we were moving forward in line with or ahead of expectations and according to our budget and business plan. 

In January 2020, we held the final event of our 50th anniversary celebrations “Progress and Popularity: Facing the Disillusioned in a New Decade” at the Institute for Government. The event presented social trends in the United Kingdom from the cradle to the grave (pdf).

In February and March, the new coronavirus, COVID-19, established itself in the UK. The second part of the year was defined by the pandemic. By mid-March, all face-to-face interviewing on our national surveys was “paused”, our staff went home to work and their children followed them shortly afterwards as schools closed. This was a difficult time for the United Kingdom and for NatCen which was facing losing up to 70% of its revenue due to understandable restrictions in contacting the public as government looked to reduce the peak and flatten the COVID-19 infection curve to lessen the pressure on the National Health Service. 

It is indicative of the change that I have witnessed at NatCen since I became Chair of Trustees in 2012 that the organisation has not only responded well in adversity, and to the challenges posed by the pandemic, but has also seized the opportunities for social research to have real impact during this period.

We joined the national effort to understand the coronavirus better through the COVID-19 infection study (the survey that is being used as part of the evidence base for policy making and for calculating the “R” infection rate). NatCen helped evaluate the pilot on the Isle of Wight of a tracing app and has been commissioned to explore the impacts of the pandemic on older people as well as the education and mental health impacts for the public more widely. You can read about our work here. NatCen staff also moved quickly to offer customers new choices - different modes of data collection, online qualitative and deliberative research as well as online training courses.  

Our financial figures for the year reflect that initiative. We are registering our fourth successive annual surplus, a remarkable achievement for NatCen’s leadership and staff in these highly unusual times. The budget and forward business also remain encouraging and we continue to be ambitious as an organisation. While NatCen’s pension deficit has continued to grow, as in many organisations, we retain a good relationship with our Pension Scheme Trustees and an agreed forward plan exists over several years to address this legacy.   

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, so we offer the best possible value to customers, 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 all the Trustees who have served NatCen during my period as Chair. Their advice, encouragement and support that is freely given adds to the richness of NatCen. I would also like to thank the staff who have contributed to NatCen’s success across the years. It has been a pleasure to work with them, the Leadership  Team and with Guy Goodwin as Chief Executive who has steered NatCen very successfully.

I hand over the Chair’s role to my successor with a sense of great pride in NatCen. My successor will find a renewed organisation with considerable confidence in its future. I wish them and NatCen very well indeed.

Professor Sir Robert Burgess
Chairman of the Board of Trustees

Read the 2019-20 Annual Report