Dilnot shows his rusty nails at PASC in warning to politicians

Andrew Dilnot, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, told the Public Administration Select Committee last week that he has written “six or seven” letters to departments complaining about the distortion of official statistics.

By CivilServiceWorld

19 Dec 2012

One letter was to the prime minster and concerned the “pre-release” of GDP statistics during Prime Minister’s Questions, he said, with a further letter in response to a complaint by Andy Burnham MP about descriptions of health statistics.

Dilnot told the committee that if he comes across any uses of statistics that “are not as they should be” then “I will say so, and say so loudly.”

He added that ministers, senior civil servants and opposition politicians “are aware that if they step out of line statistically there is the risk that it will be drawn to our attention and that we will be critical of them.” This scrutiny means that “there are risks with statistical sleight of hand that perhaps weren’t there in the past,” he said; politicians and officials should “tread carefully”.

Dilnot also warned that any political interference with statisticians at the ONS or Government Digital Service would by met by a strong response from the UKSA.

If any statisticians were to be subject to this kind of pressure “I would get out a very large stick with rusty nails in it and we would go all out on the attack,” he said.

There was “absolutely no evidence” of this behaviour taking place, he added. Legislation clearly makes any such attempted interference “unacceptable”.

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