December 7, 2011 • 5:23 pm

Andrew Dilnot, the government’s preferred candidate for Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, was quizzed by MPs yesterday.

Barring objections from the Select Committee, Mr Dilnot will take over from the current Chair Sir Michael Scholar, who Committee Chairman Bernard Jenkin noted was regarded in Whitehall “with a mixture of fear and outrage”.

Mr Dilnot identified three areas that he wanted to focus on:

1)      Improving trust, user engagement and communication in statistics

2)      Improving the development and evaluation of policy

3)      Adapting the Authority to change in technology and the wider world

While he highlighted his desire to maintain “a very strong sense of independence” Mr Dilnot did also express a desire to work more closely with Parliamentarians on an informal basis to improve MPs’ understanding of figures.

Indeed Mr Dilnot said that he thought that raising awareness of statistical issues went hand-in-hand with the Authority’s role as a watchdog: “You can only be an effective guardian if you’ve made people aware of how important [statistics] are.”

Mr Dilnot also argued that pre-release access to official statistics – which allows Ministers and civil servants to see releases before the public can – was unnecessary for good government. Instead, he said it was his personal preference to abolish the practice altogether, except in cases where the information may be sensitive for financial markets.

This, he hopes, would help to restore public trust in official figures. He warned: “The public are right to be cynical about the way statistics are used by the media and sometimes politicians.”

Of course, Full Fact entirely agrees with with these sentiments, and it is encouraging to hear the prospective Chair of the UK Statistics Authority highlighting these areas for improvement. We look forward to working with him towards these goals.

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