David Norgrove backed as new UK Statistics Authority chair – after warning of "egregious" use of Brexit stats

Written by Jim Dunton on 27 January 2017 in News

Green light from the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee follows hearing in which he said the Government Statistical Service appeared to have been “downgraded” over the years

Sir David Norgrove has cleared a hurdle towards becoming chairman of the UK Statistics Authority when current chair Sir Andrew Dilnot’s term ends in March.

MPs on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee approved Norgrove’s appointment following an evidence session on Tuesday, at which the former Low Pay Commission and Pensions Regulator chair spoke about his aspirations for UKSA and the use of statistics.

He told MPs there was a “question” over the role of the Government Statistical Service, which he said appeared to have been “downgraded” over the years to occupy a “less important role” in government.

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“I’d certainly want to work with the national statistician to raise the status of statisticians – and economists, for that matter – in government,” he said.

“And that goes for the devolution of statistics to departments: We run a very devolved approach to statistics, which is gradually becoming more centralised as we get particular problems – for example, with crime statistics that PASC took an interest in.

“I would welcome, over time, a greater sense of discipline around departments and the use of statistics as well as with national statistics.”

Asked about the use of statistics during the run-up to last year’s EU Referendum, Norgrove said both the Leave and Remain campaigns had massaged figures.

“The £350m for the NHS was clearly an egregious use of statistics, and Andrew Dilnot made that clear,” he told the hearing. 

“In terms of the Remain campaign … it wasn’t a misuse of statistics, but the Treasury’s assessment of the immediate impact of a decision to leave was, I thought, an overstatement.”

After the hearing, PACAC chair Bernard Jenkin said Norgrove had the skills to make the changes needed in at UKSA, particularly those coming out of last year’s the Bean Review. 

“His professional background and skills will allow him to successfully balance the role of overseeing statistics production and the work of the ONS with that of regulating government statistics,” he said.

“Once his name has been approved by parliament and he is appointed, PACAC will work with him closely to support his independence as chair of UKSA, and to continue to enhance the integrity and trustworthiness of statistics in government and elsewhere, which are the lifeblood of so much political and policy debate.”

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Jim Dunton
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