U.K. Data Must Improve After Criticism, Lawmakers Say

The quality of U.K. government data must be improved, lawmakers said, after the Bank of England and the Office for Budget Responsibility rated the standard of figures from the Office for National Statistics as “poor.”

The misuse of statistics by ministers, the early release of data to the government and the publication of information that has not been “quality-assured” risk undermining public confidence in the U.K. Statistics Authority, the cross-party Public Administration Committee said in a report published in London today.

“Public confidence in the information produced by government is vitally important to an effective democracy,” the committee chairman, Conservative lawmaker Bernard Jenkin, said in an e-mailed statement. “The Statistics Authority must be and be seen to be an effective, independent watchdog able to ensure statistics are produced efficiently and to a set standard.”

Delays in publication, gaps in data and errors caused by switching to a new website led the Bank of England to rate the ONS as “poor” in a survey included as part of the Statistics Authority’s submission to the committee.

“Given the national accounts’ particular importance to us, this year’s Blue-Book problems have weighed heavily on the bank’s overall assessment,” the bank said in the survey, referring the annual statistics publication. “The consistency of long-run datasets remains a concern -- in particular, GDP has been deflated using the new methodology only from 1997.”

Andrew Dilnot, the chairman of the Statistics Authority, should also be encouraged to continue the work of his predecessor, Michael Scholar, by intervening publicly when ministers misuse statistics, the panel said.

Dilnot corrected Prime Minister David Cameron’s misuse of the terms debt and deficit on Feb. 1 and criticized Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s use of “research” in December last year. Scholar warned Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith in January 2012 over his department’s use of data on foreign claimants of state benefits.

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