Privileged access to official figures has gone too far, says UK stats watchdog

10 March 2014

Back in January a Telegraph front page stated what upcoming but unpublished GDP figures 'would' show about economic growth, even though their figures were only unofficial predictions.

The newspaper's numbers turned out to be wrong when the figures came out later that day, but for some the impression it gave of having had prior access to the figures was a concern nevertheless.

telegraph front page

Some government ministers and officials have this prior access anyway, but today the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir Andrew Dilnot, reiterated the Authority's view that government ministers and officials should not have this privileged access and that far too many do have it (34 different people currently have advanced access to GDP preliminary estimates, for instance).

In a letter to the Chair of the Commons Public Administration Select Committee, Mr Dilnot wrote:

"... the mere existence of pre-release access can feed public uncertainty about what happens behind the doors of government departments, undermining public confidence both in the statistical evidence and in the policies to which official statistics relate.

"Equality of access is a fundamental principle of statistical good practice, both in the UK and internationally. All the parties to public debate should, as far as possible, have the same information at the same time, and only the absolute minimum number of people should see official statistics in their final form before they are published"

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