NEWS19 May 2020

Stats regulator issues guidance on government use of information

Covid-19 News Public Sector UK

UK – The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) has outlined its expectations for how the government and other official bodies should produce and use management information on the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Information that is used by ministers to inform operational delivery and policy decisions – including data on how to manage hospital capacity, or how to process the increased volume of benefit claimants – should be made accessible when it is shared publicly, the regulatory arm of the UK Statistics Authority recommended.

The OSR said in a guidance note: “With increased scrutiny of all decisions, and a greater thirst for timely information from the media and the public, it is unsurprising that ministers and other public figures find themselves quoting management information in public forums, such as in parliament and in media interviews.

“Given the volume of data flowing around government and the pace at which things are changing, there are inevitably instances when unpublished figures are being quoted in the public domain. It is right that ministers have access to up to date information. It is also right that this information is shared with the media and the public, but it remains important this is done in a way that promotes transparency and clarity. Otherwise it has the potential to cause confusion and undermine confidence in the statistics and organisations that produce them.”

When management information is used publicly to inform parliament, the media and the public, it should be published in an accessible form and include explanations of sources and context, the OSR said.

In cases where data is quoted and the regulator judges it to be ‘material’ to public debate, it said it would consider public interventions, but distinguish between ministers’ ‘one-off use that is marginal to the issues of interest’, and figures that are material.

The OSR also encouraged those producing management information to be guided by the code of practice for statistics and urged public organisations to work with heads of profession for statistics to ‘support public accountability’.