UK stats should not move back to Treasury remit, RSS argues

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The RSS has argued against a suggestion to move the production of national statistics back under the Treasury remit, saying that such a move would be 'counter-productive' for government.

Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, who chairs the Treasury Select Committee, has proposed that the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), which oversees the production of UK statistics, be made to report to the Treasury rather than the Cabinet Office.

In a letter to Sir Charles Bean (PDF), who is currently conducting a review into the production of UK economic statistics (due to report around the time of the Chancellor's Budget on 16 March 2016), Tyrie also suggested that the UKSA's role as producer and regulator of official statistics be separated out and that another body should oversee their production.

The RSS says that moving statistics back to the Treasury would not only be a regressive step, it would raise questions around the independence of the statistics being produced. In a press statement issued yesterday, it pointed out that when the current governance structure was passed through parliament back in 2007, the House of Lords insisted on transferring responsibility from the Treasury to the Cabinet Office on independence grounds.

Mike Hughes, who chairs the RSS National Statistics Advisory Group said: 'Strengthening the independence of statistics is laudable but bringing them under the purview of the Treasury would achieve the opposite perception [...] There would be the constant question of whether Treasury had influenced the figures.' 

The RSS sees the independence of official statistics as crucial and has on a number of occasions, raised concerns about government's pre-release access to published statistics, which it says erodes public trust that the figures produced are entirely free from government influence.

The RSS statement says there have been encouraging signs of improvement from the UK official statistics system in the last couple of years, having de-designated a number of statistics that were not up to scratch. It also argues that there is already an independent Regulation Committee within the UKSA, chaired by Sir Adrian Smith, and that the UKSA is accountable to parliament via the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee (PACAC).

Finally, the RSS notes that PACAC (in its previous incarnation as PASC) has recently carried out ten separate studies into the UKSA and official statistics' effectiveness and operations. None of these studies recommended a change to current governance arrangements.

Official Statistics UK Statistics Authority Office for National Statistics (ONS) Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) Sir Charles Bean

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