Parties urged to make manifesto commitment to end ministers' early access to statistics

Written by Rebecca Hill on 9 May 2017 in News

Statisticians, academics and campaign groups say a ban on ministers and advisers seeing official data ahead of time would prevent leaks that affect the markets

Academics call for an end to the practice of granting ministers and officials early access to official data - Photo credit: PA

A group of leading statisticians have written an open letter to all political parties to ask them to commit to putting a stop to ministers, officials and advisers being given pre-release access to official statistics.

Such data is released to just over 100 people - including the prime minister, ministers, and key civil servants, such as policy and press officers - 24 hours before they are made available to the wider public. The idea is to allow teams time to prepare statements, briefings and reports based on the data.

However, opponents say that this increases the risk of data being leaked, especially when it is market-sensitive data - research published earlier this year found that the markets “often move sharply in the 24 hours” before reports are released.

“The higher the number of people with pre-release access, the greater the risk that information, including market-moving data, might leak,” stated a letter published in The Times yesterday (8 May).

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The letter, coordinated by the Royal Statistical Society, calls on we the next government, “whatever its political complexion” to put a stop to what it described as an “outdated and unnecessary practice”.

Ending early access would “make politics fairer, increase public confidence in official statistics and prevent any potential abuse of privileged information for political or financial gain”, said the signatories, who include two former national statisticians.

They added: “Such a move would cost nothing but have the very welcome effects of reducing the opportunities for media ‘spinning’, improving the health of our political system and safeguarding public confidence in official statistics as a whole.”

The letter is signed by 114 people, which RSS chief executive Hetan Shah said was because this is the same number as those who get pre-release access to official datasets.

Signatories include a number of former RSS presidents and vice-presidents, various senior statisticians and academics, as well as Will Moy, director of Full Fact, Sam Bowman, the executive director of the Adam Smith Institute, and Jeni Tennison, chief executive of the Open Data Institute.

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