Thursday 12 February 2009

Where is this man when you need him?

A few weeks ago, Sir Michael Scholar (pictured here), who heads the UK Statistics Authority, launched a full scale attack on ministers for the premature publication of knife crime statistics, which hadn't yet been fully cleared by government statisticians. (Godot would have arrived in the time it usually takes for government statisticians to provide timely data). This attack was justified on the grounds that the professional integrity of statisticians had been impugned.

Yesterday, the Office of National Statistics waded into a difficult political row about immigration by publishing seriously misleading statistics on migration, which wrongly suggested that the only people getting any new jobs were foreigners. As an excellent leader in today's Times points out, the briefing (published prematurely on the grounds of 'topicality') made no distinction between people born abroad but permanently resident here and those who arrived recently. Only someone of the greatest political naivety could publish such a briefing without proper context, and without considering its effect on a potentially poisonous political debate.

According to its website
, the Statistics Authority's main objective "is to promote and safeguard the quality of official statistics that serve the public good. It is also required to safeguard the comprehensiveness of official statistics, and ensure good practice in relation to official statistics." It is also intended to oversee the work of ONS. I trust Sir Michael Scholar, who apparently attended the weekly meeting of Whitehall permanent secretaries yesterday "to discuss the importance of abiding by the new regime for releasing figures" can bring himself to show the appropriate indignation on this occasion, and issue a severe public rebuke to ONS head Karen Dunnell in the same way he has with ministers. After all the premature publication on this occasion threatened public order rather than simply highlighting a minor ministerial success story.

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