COI acts to stop sensitive figures being leaked

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The Independent Online
THE CENTRAL Statistical Office is trying to stop leaks of official economic statistics by limiting the number of those in government who see market-sensitive figures before the public and by reducing the advance notice they are given.

With as many as 40 ministers and their officials seeing some figures in advance, Bill McLennan, director of the CSO, said the measures were aimed at improving 'openness, integrity and public confidence in the figures'.

From April the number of ministers and officials who are allowed advance sight of the figures will be restricted to 10 - or slightly more in some cases - and most releases will be made available to the Government only a day and a half in advance.

The new list will include the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the President of the Board of Trade and the Governor of the Bank of England.

Mr McLennan acknowledged this system was still less stringent than in most other industrial countries, but he suspected that strict procedures were not always adhered to abroad. He said the changes were a compromise between achieving higher standards of integrity for UK statistics and 'a practice which has been going on since Adam was a boy'.

Mr McLennan, who announced the changes with the approval of the Chancellor, Norman Lamont, admitted there had been leaks of figures but not from the CSO. The new practice would curb this trend, he believed. But there was nothing to prevent even the restricted list of ministers and officials from divulging information to others, apart from civil service ethics.

Most statistics are made available to ministers and officials between two and four days ahead of release. But a preliminary estimate of the retail price index is made available to the Chancellor as much as nine days in advance. Between 10 and 20 officials and ministers can share this information before it is revealed to the public.

Release of the RPI will be brought forward by one day to a Thursday in June, and to Wednesdays after that. The CSO will try to bridge the gap between the preliminary estimate and the final index still further in the following 12 months, and may eventually release the first estimate.

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