Select Committee on Treasury Tenth Report

10  Conclusion

184. Levels of public confidence in official statistics in the UK are worryingly low. The Government's consultation paper represents a welcome acknowledgement of the need to distance statistical production and control from politicians. However, the proposals appear to be in their early stages and require considerably more work. As the proposals stand, there is a lack of detail about how they would work in practice and a need for further assessment of the implications of the various changes proposed.

185. Our main concern with the proposals is their scope: they are too narrow, and fail to deal with statistics outside the ONS. Public confidence in the ONS is already higher than it is in most other government departments, so reform of this part of the statistical system is likely to have less impact on public confidence than would reform of statistics produced within other government departments. The Government proposes strengthening the National Statistics system by establishing a statutory duty for the new independent board to assess all existing National Statistics against a new statutory code of practice. We are concerned that, by taking this approach while continuing to allow ministers control over the designation of National Statistics within their departments, the Government risks both undermining public confidence in official statistics and missing an opportunity to improve public confidence. Rather than providing an incentive for ministers to seek to obtain the National Statistics 'kite-mark of quality' for all statistics in their departments, the proposed legislation may act as a disincentive, as ministers may choose to avoid thorough scrutiny and loss of control by refusing to put their statistics forward for National Statistics accreditation.

186. The Government's decision to legislate on statistics is likely to represent a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform the statistical system in the UK. For this reason, it is vital that the Government takes on board the views of the statistics community, both as expressed to it in the course of its consultation process and as reflected in the findings of this report, to ensure that the legislation it introduces has the maximum impact on public confidence in official statistics. It is public confidence that will provide the ultimate measure of the success of the Government's reforms.

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Prepared 26 July 2006