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Jeremy Lefroy: The independence of the Office for National Statistics

Lefroy_1008Jeremy Lefroy is the Conservative Candidate for Stafford. He fought Newcastle-under-Lyme in the 2005 general election and was a Newcastle Borough councillor from 2003-2007 (cabinet member for finance 2006-7). He is a director of a coffee and cocoa business which he helped to found when living in Tanzania. He helped establish East African Botanicals, which produces artemisinin, the main compnent of modern anti-malarials, in its new factory in Kenya. He is a primary school governor in Staffordshire and trustee of the charity Equity for Africa.

The ONS has officially been independent since 1 April this year.

If it is to be seen as truly independent, it needs to reconsider the way in which it presents and comments on official statistics. I give three examples from the current pages of its website which concern me.

Example 1: The public sector budget deficit - August 2008

“Debt peaked at 44.8% of GDP in 1997, its highest since the mid 1980’s. The debt ration then fell steadily as public sector finances improved, reaching a low of 29.6% in March 2002. Since then, it has risen (my bold). The Budget forecast for the end of March 2009 is 38.5%.”

This comment might have been written by Gordon Brown himself. A falling debt ratio is an improvement (positive), while the opposite is merely described as ‘rising’ (neutral).

Example 2: Timescale of graph for inflation compared with that for public sector net debt

The public sector net debt graph starts in mid 1997, which is favourable to the Labour government (especially as it does not mention the substantial impact of the £20 billion fees from the sale of the 3G mobile licences).

By contrast, the inflation graph starts in August 2006 when the RPI was already at 3.5% and the CPI at 2.5%. Had the graph similarly started in mid 1997, when RPI under a Conservative government was at 2.00% and CPI at 1.6%, then the growth of inflation in recent years under Labour would appear much more marked.

Example 3: Economic growth

On the home page of the ONS (10/10/08), we have the wonderful statement that the “economic growth was 0.0%” in Q2.

Presumably the original wording was that it grows by 0.2% and then, with the  adjustment to zero, the ONS ‘forgot’ to alter the wording.

The ONS needs to take much greater care in its presentation and comments if I am to be convinced that it is truly independent of the Government.


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