The “fact and manner” of a Home Office press release on drug seizures is “irregular and inconsistent with the statutory Code of Practice” according to the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir Michael Scholar.
The letter sent to immigration minister, Damien Green MP (pdf format, opens in new window) highlights that the “press release was embargoed until 7 November, three days before the publication of the Home Office’s National Statistics on this subject, in their Statistical Bulletin Seizures of drugs in England and Wales 2010/11” and that it “seems to have been distributed only to a select group of journalists”.
He added that “It has been suggested to me that one motivation for this release was to generate positive news coverage ahead of the release of the National Statistics which showed a decline in the volume of drug seizures. I would welcome your reassurance that this is not the case. Were it to be the case, the Authority’s view is that this would be highly corrosive and damaging to public confidence in official statistics.”
Sir Michael also sought reassurance that “these statistics will, in future, be released in accordance with the Code of Practice, and that the scope to bring forward their publication to the earliest possible date, on a regular and pre-announced basis, will be urgently explored, as required by the Code of Practice”.
Royal Statistical Society vice-president and chair of the National Statistics Working Party, Jill Leyland said: “This incident highlights, once again, the importance of the role of the UK Statistics Authority as an independent watchdog on the official statistical system. Improper use of official statistics, and the issue of a press release to selected journalists only without it appearing on the Home Office website, can only undermine public confidence in official statistics. We hope that the minister can give Sir Michael Scholar the reassurances that he seeks.
"We also reiterate the hope expressed in Sir Michael’s letter that ways will be urgently explored to bring forward the release of these data in ways consistent with the code of practice. Statistical releases need to be as timely and comprehensive as possible; they should also contain informative commentary explaining data movements. We hope Home Office policy officials and statisticians will work together to achieve this for drug seizures data."