ONS scraps pre-release access for ministers

16 Jun 17

Ministers and civil servants will no longer have access to national statistics 24 hours ahead of official publication, it has been announced.

John Pullinger, national statistician and chief executive of the UK Statistics Authority, wrote to board chair Sir David Norgrove to announce the decision to end so-called “pre-release” arrangements, which will come into effect on July 1.

He said enhanced access damaged public trust in national statistics.

Following a review of the pre-release protocol, stronger controls were introduced in March 2017 but in his 15 June letter Pullinger said: “It is already clear to me that the changes are not successfully dealing with the risks the review sought to mitigate.”

In response to this the UK Statistics Authority board then advised that pre-release access should be removed for all ONS figures.

Pullinger stated: “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 added that if it was necessary exceptional pre-release access would be granted to particular individuals but this would be conducted in a “fully transparent” manner.

Full Fact, an independent fact-checking charity, has campaigned for the abolition of pre-release privilege following a series of incidents.

In a statement, the charity said it had given evidence to the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee on the communication and publication of statistics after an incident in 2016.

On that occasion an unauthorised person was allowed by the Department for Work and Pensions to see new jobs statistics published under pre-release access.

The person then published details of the figures to 300 people on a social network used by DWP staff.

The committee has previously called on the for the UK Statistics Authority to be given more control of Whitehall’s use of official government data to ensure integrity of information.

Full Fact director Will Moy said: "Full Fact strongly welcomes the decision to cancel pre-release access to ONS data. We all pay for these statistics so they belong to us all.

“It’s the right decision to make them equally available to everyone at the same time.”

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