Holyrood committee: Scottish Government must help public better understand ‘new gold’ of economic data

12.02.2018

Economic data is ‘the new gold, informing policy making, influencing business decisions and affecting our pay and pensions’, and the Scottish Government must help the public and media better understand it, according to a report by the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee.

The report - How to Make Data Count – follows a four-month inquiry by the committee, which saw a wide range of economic and business experts and organisations give evidence on the reliability of economic statistics used by the Scottish Government, media and others. The inquiry considered the ‘accuracy, utility and comprehensibility’ of Scottish economic statistics; and what data is required for ‘effective delivery and scrutiny of policy’.

Further key recommendations in the report include:

  • Pre-release access - the practice of making official statistics available before their publication to those not involved in their production such as Scottish Government ministers and their advisers should end for market-sensitive economic statistics, including Scottish GDP, and the Scottish Government is invited to set out how it will do this.
  • Research commissioned by the Parliament suggested the pace of devolution was beginning to ‘expose cracks’ in the UK’s system of producing economic statistics, a system designed to produce data for the UK as a whole rather than the devolved administrations,. The report calls for a feasibility study to be undertaken by the Scottish Government to assess the practicalities and costs; and pros and cons of greater independence for the production of economic statistics in Scotland, including – though not limited to – consideration of establishing a non-ministerial department –– as with the recent creation of the Scottish Fiscal Commission; embedding further capacity within an existing non-ministerial department; or reviewing the role of Scotland’s Chief Statistician.
  • A robust and independent analysis of Scotland’s particular data needs in order to identify both what is essential from what is desirable and what is useful from what we may be doing out of habit, to be undertaken by the Strategic Board, or commissioned by that organisation.

Convener of the Committee, Gordon Lindhurst MSP commented:

“The right data, gathered and interpreted in the right way can be fundamental to policy decisions that help shape the Scottish economy. For this reason the committee believes the Scottish Government must make strenuous efforts to help the public and the media to better understand our economic data, and the profound impact it has on all our day-to-day lives.”

Mr Lindhurst continued:

“There is no suggestion the Scottish Government exercised any undue influence in its early access to economic data, but placing restrictions on pre-release access in certain key areas could be an important step towards reducing public cynicism in those statistics that directly affect them and where greater understanding could bring significant benefits.

“Above all, now is a crucial time for the Scottish Government to consider greater independence for the production of economic statistics in Scotland, and a robust and independent analysis of the kind of data Scotland needs for a strong, thriving and sustainable economy to benefit all.”

Background

The Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee’s report, How to Make Data Count can be accessed via this link.

Further recommendations in the report include:

  • The Scottish Government to provide the committee with updates on its development of a suite of indicators to measure the underlying causes of the gender pay gap.
  • The statistical needs of the Scottish Fiscal Commission – given its responsibility for economic and fiscal forecasting – should be a top priority. In evidence to the committee the SFC highlighted four areas for current priority in its work: price data and deflators for Scotland; GDP by component of expenditure in constant prices; better and more timeous data on Scottish wages; and a more comprehensive breakdown of public sector expenditure in Scotland.

The Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee scrutinises a broad range of topics within the remit of the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work including energy policy, the impact of the UK vote to leave the EU, fair work and matters relating to the Scottish economy. It comes to a view after taking evidence from, and engaging with, a wide range of stakeholders ‘on the frontline’ and applies authoritive, expert, effective and influential scrutiny to policy.

Photographs of the Committee and Convener are available free of charge.

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