David Cameron’s taunt at Ed Miliband yesterday during Prime Minister’s questions that the ‘good news will keep coming’ was taken by some as a hint at today’s GDP figures, which the PM has early access to. Now the chair of the UK Statistics Authority Andrew Dilnot has written to Cameron to rebuke him for the line. The letter, which you can read in full here, says:
‘The Pre-Release Access to Official Statistics Order 2008 states that recipients of pre-release access must not disclose ‘any suggestion of the size or direction of any trend’ indicated by the statistic to which the recipient has been given such access. It is clear from media reports that although this may not have been your intent, your remarks were indeed widely interpreted as providing an indication about the GDP figures.’
As I blogged yesterday, it’s impossible to know what the Prime Minister was referring to, given he’s clearly taken heart from the good jobs and inflation figures of the past week. But Dilnot’s letter makes the point that ‘the interpretation of your remarks is a clear example of the difficulties and risks created by the current arrangements’, which the Statistics Authority believes are ‘unsatisfactory’. Arguing that giving politicians advance sight of the figures puts them in a ‘difficult position’ if they have to speak in public between seeing them and the official publication, Dilnot adds:
‘It is our view that the current pre-release access arrangements undermine public confidence in official statistics and the professional independence of statisticians.’
Dilnot also calls on the Prime Minister to undertake a review of the pre-release access arrangements. So though yesterday’s post-PMQs row won’t exactly be etched on anyone’s memory in years to come, it could well be the trigger for a change in the way the government handles statistics in the future.