Some government officials - including Ministers - are routinely given early access to certain official figures. People with 'pre-release access' must not — by law — disclose either the numbers or hints as to what they show, until the figures go public.
Yesterday the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority wrote to the Treasury about a large breach of the rules on market-sensitive trade figures released last month. The figures were distributed to 421 officials not permitted to receive them ahead of publication.
Normally, besides the staff who compile the data, some 53 officials are given early access to trade statistics. Similarly, 47 officials regularly see GDP figures early and as many as 103 officials routinely have prior access to employment figures.
The Treasury will be taking steps to make sure the breach won't happen again. Even so, the stats watchdog reiterated its view that the existing arrangements weren't satisfactory:
"the existence of pre-release access can undermine public confidence both in the statistical evidence and in the policies to which official statistics relate...
"we will continue to argue against large numbers of Government ministers and officials having privileged access to statistics before Parliament and the public".
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