On Friday, UK Statistics Authority chair Andrew Dilnot wrote to the Treasury’s permanent secretary Nicholas McPherson (PDF) regarding the breach, which was apparently a consequence of human error.
The Treasury has since tightened up procedures to prevent it happening again, however, currently 13 members of the Treasury - as well as officials from the offices of the prime minister, deputy prime minister, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the governor of the Bank of England - are allowed access to trade statistics 24 hours before they are officially released.
In his letter, Andrew Dilnot reiterated the UK Statistics Authority’s view that pre-release access to statistics undermines public trust. ‘We will continue to argue against large numbers of government ministers and officials having privileged access to statistics before Parliament and the public,’ he said.
This view is shared by Jil Matheson, who has just stepped down as the National Statistician. In a recent interview, she pointed out that many countries manage without pre-release access, and that if ministers must see statistics before they are released (in order to give time to prepare comment on the statistics), the time they have should be cut from 24 hours to just one hour.
The scrapping of pre-release access is also supported by the Royal Statistical Society; in 2012 RSS president Valerie Isham wrote to the prime minister in support of Andrew Dilnot’s call to abolish pre-release access.