Ben Chu: Sound statistics are the basis of sound economic policy


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The Independent Online

What is going wrong at the Office for National Statistics? Some put it down to the office's move to Newport, one of the previous government's attempts to get big official agencies out of London. This move to the provinces, it is said, made it harder for the ONS to retain its best people. Others argue that the distance of the ONS statisticians from London, where most of the users of the data are situated, makes them less likely to get feedback.

Others suggest that it comes down to a lack of resources. Neither is much of an excuse. It should be possible to produce timely and reliable statistics from South Wales. And while it is true that the ONS has taken cuts, its poor performances predated the austerity drive. Whatever the causes of the dysfunction, it must be fixed. Stats might look dry to most people but good data is a necessary condition of good economic policy decisions.

We know now that ONS data that was produced in mid-2008 underestimated the extent to which the economy was tanking. If policymakers had been given a more accurate picture of the economic situation at the time, they might have reacted more forcefully and sooner.