One of the central recommendations of the report was to hand responsibility for pre-release access to statistics over to the UK Statistics Authority, arguing that current arrangements present a risk to public confidence in the independence of the statistical system. However, in its response, the government rejected this proposal, saying that pre-release access for ministers was necessary to allow ‘prompt commentary on statistics that is helpful in avoiding any misunderstanding in their interpretation’.
Bernard Jenkin, who chairs the Committee, called the response ‘offhanded’ in its brevity and urged the government to reconsider. ‘I rather suspect that such interpretation of and commentary on statistics is precisely what causes concern about them,’ he wrote. ‘It may be precisely the different explanations, “interpretations” of statistics that lead to the perception that statistics are worse than “lies and damned lies”’.
‘The Government should accept the advice of the Statistics Authority on pre-release access as a matter of policy and should legislate at the earliest opportunity to transfer responsibility for determining policy on pre-release access to them,’ he continued.
Mike Hughes, chair of the Society’s National Statistics Advisory Group, said that the RSS welcomes and endorses the response from Bernard Jenkin.‘The Royal Statistical Society has long since argued for the abolition, or near abolition, of pre-release access, as outlined its recent response to the PASC inquiry into statistics and their use in government
,’ he said. ‘The Society believes that transferring responsibility for pre-release access from ministers to the UK Statistics Authority would improve trust in official statistics.’