Jil Matheson: ‘End pre-release’

The outgoing National Statistician has called for an end to the practice of giving ministers access to official statistics before their release.

Chris Radburn/PA Wire/Press Association Images

By Suzannah.Brecknell

18 Jun 2014

Asked in an interview with CSW for her position on ‘pre-release access’, Jil Matheson – who retired as chief of the UK Statistics Authority last week – said: “I wish we didn’t have it.” Removing pre-release access, she said, “would actually improve trust in politicians as well as trust in statistics”.

Currently, ministers and some officials can see statistics 24 hours before publication, but the last two UKSA chairs have expressed concerns that statistics are being too widely distributed, and argued that ministers should only see statistics three hours prior to publication.

The Public Administration Select Committee said last year that pre-release access should be decided by parliament, not by government.

Matheson told CSW that if pre-release access must be allowed, it should be limited to allowing ministers, press officers or “the chief policy maker who may be expected to comment” to see statistics an hour before publication.

“Many other countries manage without it,” said Matheson, “and it certainly makes for greater transparency and trust that there has been no opportunity for interference [with statistics]”.
She continued that there is no interference in official UK statistics, “but the perception [of interference], and the way that stories can be spun is a problem that we just don’t need.”

See also: Our full interview with Matheson

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