Chance to reform ONS 'squandered'

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MPs criticised the Government today for missing a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to create a truly independent statistics service.

The Treasury Select Committee said the proposals for an independent national statistics office would cover only a sixth of all government data releases.

It warned the decision to allow ministers to retain control over the remaining 83 per cent of statistics would damage the perceived independence of the new office.

However, observers believe it is unlikely the Government will accept the recommendation to extend the remit.

Michael Fallon, the chairman of the sub-committee that published the report, said public confidence in official statistics was already at a "worryingly low" level. He said just 17 per cent of adults believed statistics were produced without political interference while only 14 per cent said the Government used them "honestly".

"Public confidence in official statistics is the key to reform," he said. "The Government mustn't miss this opportunity to ensure statistics are not only independent but seen to be independent."

The report found the Office for National Statistics was responsible for just 250 of the 1,450 data sets produced by the Government Statistical Services and urged the Government to extend the remit of the new legislation.

A Treasury spokesman said the Government's reforms represented the most far-reaching statistical reforms in 30 years.

"Our statistical system will be enhanced by the proposals announced by the Chancellor late last year, including through the creation of an independent governing board, and making the ONS a non-ministerial department," he said.