The Dutch economy relies to a great extent on multinationals and large companies which operate worldwide. Due partly to growing globalisation, keeping track of all the statistics on these organisations has become an increasingly complex task. Ten years ago, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) anticipated this development and set up its Large Cases Unit (LCU). Ever since, an increasing number of statistical institutes from other countries have been calling on CBS to share its knowledge and experience with them.
The expertise at CBS is in such high demand due to the rigorous standards that the European Union applies to the quality of the statistics it receives from its Member States. “That’s not so surprising when you consider that the amount each Member State contributes to the EU is based on those same statistics,” says Dries Butink of CBS. In addition to being an account manager on the LCU, Butink coordinates a training programme in this field for the European statistical office Eurostat. “As a result, there is growing pressure within Europe to ensure clear accountability for these figures.”
Due in part to its strong mercantile tradition and the fiscal climate it offers, the Netherlands is home to a relatively high number of large and complex companies. “We’re talking about several hundred companies in total, 360 of which come under the responsibility of our team. These large companies account for about 50 percent of the Dutch economy: a mix of major Dutch companies and foreign multinationals with a base in the Netherlands.” As Butink well knows, when it comes to supplying financial data, the demands on these companies are considerable. “They not only have to report on matters like turnover, operating results, imports and exports, but they are also expected to provide detailed data on production in the Netherlands and scale of production abroad, not to mention wage distribution, investments and research and development. Then there’s HR-related information to consider, such as employment and absenteeism, and reports on everything from IT to energy consumption and waste. Due to factors such as globalisation, it’s becoming ever more complex for these large companies to supply the right information, and to do so consistently.”
The LCU was founded ten years ago to manage this process and to help key players in the Dutch economy fulfil these obligations. “Since the relevant financial figures come under the responsibility of a large number of different statistical teams within CBS, we commissioned an application which takes all the required data from large companies and presents them automatically in an easy-to-read dashboard. The quality of the data supplied is checked automatically during this process using an extensive set of calculation rules.” In some instances, the questions used to obtain the relevant statistics might not reflect the specific set of circumstances in a particular company. Butink explains, “In that case, we visit the company in question and consult their financial specialists to find ways for them to provide the necessary information in a more or less uniform format. Our aim is to make sure that we are in a position to provide the right data to compile the National Accounts by the end of the year.”
“We commissioned an application which takes all the required data from large companies and presents them automatically in an easy-to-read dashboard.”
Ensuring statistical quality
Since other countries are also wrestling with the problem of how to ensure the quality of large companies’ financial statements, their statistical institutes have begun calling on the expertise of CBS more frequently. “For several years now, other European countries have been showing considerable interest in how we achieve consistency in the figures for the largest companies,” Butink reveals. At the end of 2018, Eurostat made funding available to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and experience. This funding reimburses national statistical institutes for the time they invest in providing training in this area. “In February 2019, we met with our Irish, Danish and Swedish counterparts in Luxembourg to jointly develop a training format. We then gave a training course at the German statistical institute Destatis, and returned for a second session at the start of 2020. Because we carry out these training activities alongside our regular work, we divide the time among four account managers in our team: Ilse Gubbels, Harald Wenders, Cyrille Pluijmen and myself.”
A customised approach
In the lead-up to the training course in Germany, Butink and his colleagues used questionnaires to map out the existing situation. “In the end, we developed recommendations based on all the information received, and these later became available as a comprehensive advisory report. Within the year, we repeated this process in Belgium, with a training course held at the Central Bank.” Each country has its own way of organising the collection of statistical information, which means the data it produces are also different. And their approach to this work relies on different knowledge, experience and people. Legislation also varies from country to country. “That’s why we take a fully customised approach to our advisory role.” In parallel to the CBS training courses in Germany and Belgium, the LCU’s Danish, Swedish and Irish counterparts held comparable sessions in Hungary, Greece, Lithuania, Spain, Portugal and Poland.
At Eurostat’s request, CBS collaborated with the statistical institutes of Sweden, Denmark and Ireland to organise a two-day online training course in April this year for all interested EU countries to round off the initiative. Based in part on the success of the earlier rounds of training and the positive feedback on the two-day online course, Eurostat has agreed to provide financial backing for a second series of training courses. Several countries have signed up already. “We are delighted with this follow-up phase of the Eurostat project. It will enable us to share our know-how and expertise with yet more countries and to further promote consistency in the statistics of large enterprises.”