Committee publishes bill to stop the practice of early access to economic data

09.09.2020

MSPs on Holyrood’s Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee have today published a Committee Bill which would limit the pre-release access (PRA) that Scottish Government Ministers and officials currently have to key economic data.

PRA is the practice of making official statistics, and the written commentary that accompanies them, available in advance of publication to specific individuals not involved in their production. In most cases this includes Government Ministers and officials who advise them.

Earlier this year the Committee came to the majority view that the practice of early access to economic statistics, namely GDP and the Retail Sales Index for Scotland, should end.

Committee Convener, Gordon Lindhurst MSP, said:

“Statistics are a public asset and the remit of our original inquiry was to examine the accuracy, utility and understanding of economic data. In concluding our inquiry, a majority of MSPs agreed that legislation was needed.

“The great majority of statistics experts who gave evidence to the Committee were agreed that the practice of pre-release access for government ministers, now ended elsewhere in the UK by the ONS and Bank of England, should not continue in Scotland.

“The Committee decided to take action after the Scottish Government chose not to change its view on the matter.”

Mr Lindhurst added:

“Equal access and earliest release are the principles at the heart of this Committee Bill.

“The collection of data, on the face of it, can be viewed as a niche issue however it is 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 drafted this bill with its aims and objectives.”

The Bill has three main strands to it which would aim to:

• Remove PRA entirely for two specific categories (GDP and Retail Sales) of economic statistics
• Introduce a phased approach and an independent review of the impact of the removal of PRA to GDP and Retail Sales.
• Reduce from five working days to one working day the PRA for those economic statistics where five working days is currently the maximum.

Background

The published bill can be found here

The report which was published earlier in the year proposing a Committee Bill can be found here.

The committee gained the right to introduce a Bill following the Parliament’s vote in favour of its draft proposal report in September last year.

Currently under the Pre-Release Access to Official Statistics Act (Scotland) Order 2008, PRA for market-sensitive statistics is allowed a maximum of one working day before publication, and for other statistics a maximum of five working days before publication.

The SNP members on the Committee at the time did not wish to proceed forward with a Committee Bill and dissented from the Committee Bill proposal.

The Bill does not:

• Remove any right of access of the Scottish Government or its ministers that the UK Government or specific Whitehall departments retain to statistics;
• Make any stipulations on any sets of data other than those categories of economic statistics specified. It will not, for example, alter the postion in relation to health or education statistics, and;
• Call into question the integrity or professionalism of Scottish Government statisticians or other civil servants working in the field of economic or other areas of data.

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