Committee wants to end ministers’ early access to key economic data

A Holyrood committee wants to change the law to prevent ministers from getting early sight of key economic information.

MSPs on the Economy Committee plan to take the unusual step of introducing a Committee Bill in a bid to stop the Scottish Government having access to GDP data and retail sales statistics before they are officially released.

In doing so, the MSPs said they believed “economic statistics should be a public asset…..and as such ought to be available when published on an equal and not a privileged basis”.

The proposed legislation was announced over a year after the committee had called for the practice of pre-release access (PRA) to these and other statistics to be end.

Economy Committee convener Gordon Lindhurst (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA)

In April 2018, the committee recommended this be the case for GDP figures and retail sales statistics, as well as the Quarterly National Accounts Scotland and Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland figures.

But as a minority of the committee at the time backed a call for a presumption against the pre-release of data, and for the Scottish Government to be asked for its views on why it should retain early access, the committee said the legislation was a “compromise”.

By only moving to end ministers’ early access to GDP and retail sales statistics, the report said: “The rationale is that this would represent a compromise between the majority and minority view of the committee in terms of addressing half of what the majority recommendation called for while not ‘taking away’ anything from the Scottish Government that the UK Government would retain.”

The report set out that the committee now planned to bring forward legislation after a period of “extended correspondence” with the government.

However, it added the issue had been “intractable”.

Committee convener Gordon Lindhurst said: “Statistics are a public asset and the remit of our original inquiry was to examine the accuracy, utility and understanding of economic data.

“From this we made 29 recommendations aimed at improving Scotland’s economic data of which the majority were accepted.

“It has been over a year since we published our initial report and the Scottish Government has not changed its view on PRA. Therefore, the committee has decided to take its own action to deal with PRA.”

He continued: “Equal access and earliest release are the principles at the heart of this proposed Committee Bill.”

And Mr Lindhurst said that while it could be “viewed as a niche issue” the availability of data was a “fundamental cog in the decision making in government, in business, in social policy, in the press, and in the public mind and that is why the committee has come to this decision”.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “UK Government departments provide pre-release access to their statistics in a similar way to the Scottish Government.

“Pre-release access is a matter for the Chief Statistician and the independence of his role is crucial. Pre-release access is consistent with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics which state that it should be in line with the rules and principles set out in legislation.”

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