The UK Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) has concluded that while government statistics are produced to a high standard, there are problems which risk public confidence in the statistical system and must be addressed.
While the committee felt that the Act has ‘helped to improve the operation of the statistical system’, and that its Code of Practice ‘has set a clear standard’ for Government departments to adhere to, it noted the criticism that the Office for National Statistics received in a recent stakeholder survey, in which its data was described as ‘poor’. The report calls for greater clarity and transparency in the way the UK Statistics Authority operates and recommends that data is better presented on its website.
Professor David Hand, former president of the Royal Statistical Society and chair of its National Statistics Advisory Group, has welcomed the committee’s recommendations, saying: ‘If implemented, they would give the public greater reason to trust official statistics by strengthening the UK Statistics Authority in its role of independent watchdog of the official statistical system.’
The RSS particularly welcomes the committee’s recommendations that the current policy on access by ministers to official statistics ahead of their formal release – known as pre-release access – be transferred from them to the Authority. ‘As we set out in our submission to the committee, there is strong evidence suggesting that lack of confidence in statistics is in large part due to perceptions of political control or misrepresentation,’ David Hand explained. ‘Allowing ministers to write the policy on pre-release access perpetuates that perception and so is a major obstacle to improving confidence.’
The report praised the recent interventions of Andrew Dilnot, chair of the Statistics Authority in correcting misrepresentations of statistics in parliament. This praise was echoed by David Hand, who commented: ‘We endorse the Committee’s view that the public interventions by the chair of the Authority, Andrew Dilnot, have been highly effective. These interventions, like those of his predecessor, Sir Michael Scholar, send a strong signal to all that official statistics must always be used fairly and accurately.’