Bank officials seethe over 'incompetence' of ONS

 

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The Independent Online

The Bank of England has begun to question the "competence" of the Office for National Statistics, i has learnt.

Senior bank policymakers feel they are being let down by the organisation, which last month announced a delay in the publication of its national accounts statistics, known as the Blue Book, for the second time in two years.

It was originally due out on 1 November. But the ONS said in September that the full data will be three weeks late due to the need to make revisions.

The Bank of England was planning to use the Blue Book's figures in preparations for its November growth and inflation forecast.

The Bank's report will be published as scheduled on 16 November, but its researchers will now not have the access to the range of data that they would normally rely upon to make their calculations.

"It's a question of competence, of getting quality data in a timely fashion in the manner of other countries," said a senior Bank source.

The frustration over the Blue Book is only the latest in a long line of complaints from Bank officials about the performance of Britain's official statistics gathering agency.

Andrew Sentance, who left the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee in May, said: "There are long-standing concerns at the Bank about the quality of economic data from the ONS. My own reaction was not to regard it as gospel. The ONS is like one data point – you have to look at a wide variety."

The ONS yesterday put the blame for the delay in publication of the Blue Book on a "major new international [data] classification change" and stressed it had given the Bank as much early information as it could.

"We gave the Bank exceptionally early pre-release access for operational reasons," it said.

Private-sector forecasters have voiced similar concerns about the ONS.

"There are no excuses for these delays," said Simon Goodwin, senior economic adviser to the Ernst & Young Item Club. "It makes life very difficult for us and other forecasters."

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