David Prosser: Poor data that we can ill afford

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The Independent Online

Outlook Red faces at the Office of National Statistics, which has had to take the unprecedented step of delaying publication of the national accounts, including the latest estimate of GDP, after uncovering errors in its data. Well, I say unprecedented, but in fact the ONS has some form in this area – there has been widespread scepticism about some of its retail sales data for a number of years now.

Nor is this Government department alone in getting the figures wrong. In recent times, we've seen HM Revenue & Customs postpone the publication of housing market data because they didn't believe it, while the Ministry of Justice had a similar experience.

All organisations suffer mishaps from time to time, of course, but the ONS will be acutely aware that its critics have suggested that the decision to move its headquarters from London to South Wales a couple of years ago might make it harder for it to attract and retain the best staff. And though it rejects any suggestion the move might have been a factor in this technical glitch, this is hardly the moment for doubts about the quality of our official statistics to begin creeping in. Look what happened when everyone realised Greece's numbers were so inaccurate.