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Ministers' early access to official statistics comes to an end

2 min read

Ministers will no longer get sight of official statistics before they are released to the public. 

The UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), which acts as the watchdog of the distribution of official stats, said the existing system caused “detriment to public trust”.

A limited number of ministers and civil servants are allowed to see figures produced by the Office for National Statistics 24 hours before they are released publicly.

The list of officials able to access the pre-release was tightened earlier this year after instances of the stats being leaked or distributed early.

But UKSA national statistician John Pullinger said the changes were not “successfully dealing with the risks” identified by an earlier review.

“On the basis of all the information now available to me I consider that the public benefit likely to result from pre-release access to ONS statistics is outweighed by the detriment to public trust in those statistics likely to result from such access,” he said in a letter to UKSA chair Sir David Norgrove.

“I have therefore decided that pre-release access to ONS statistics will stop with effect from 1 July 2017.

“Should there be a need for exceptional pre-release access to particular individuals for a specific release this would be fully transparent.”

In response, Sir David said the board of the UKSA agreed with Mr Pullinger’s recommendation.

“Equality of access to official statistics is a fundamental principle of statistical good practice, and the existence of pre-release access undermines trust in our official statistics system,” he said.

In 2016, the Department for Work and Pensions was reprimanded for sharing employment statistics with up to 300 people before they were officially released. 

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