Treasury committee chair calls for improved statistics oversight

29 Feb 16

The UK statistics watchdog needs to stop “marking its own homework” and hand on its scrutiny role to an advisory body, the chair of the Treasury select committee has said.

In a letter to Sir Charles Bean, who is leading a review of economic statistics for the government, Andrew Tyrie said the governance of official statistics were badly in need of a shake up. Bean has asked the Treasury committee to pass on its suggestions for improvements.

Among the committee’s recommendations is a change to the role of the UK Statistics Authority. It cannot be both producer and regulator of statistics, Tyrie said.

“The UK Statistics Authority has been marking its own homework for years – operating as both producer and regulator of official statistics. This should end. It cannot do both jobs to best effect.”

Instead, a small advisory body should carry out regular examination of the quality of statistics produced by the Office for National Statistics, armed with a public duty to blow the whistle where there is cause for concern.

The Treasury should also take back responsibility for statistics from the Cabinet Office, given the importance of data to the work of the Bank of England and Office for Budget Responsibility.

Thirdly, the independence of the UK Statistics Authority and the ONS needs to be bolstered.

“These bodies cannot afford to allow their independence to be compromised,” Tyrie said. “Even the appearance of being vulnerable to pressure from the government is unacceptable.”

He added that he hoped Bean would produce his final report in advance of the 16 March Budget, giving the chancellor an opportunity to act.

Established in 2008, the UK Statistics Authority is charged with both oversight of the ONS, its executive arm, and independent scrutiny of all official statistics produced in the UK. Its current chair is the economist Sir Andrew Dilnot.

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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