National statistics to be reviewed amid unease over growth forecasts

Private sector economists, who often complain about the output of the agency, welcomed the move.

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The Independent Online

The UK’s official statistics are to be subject to an independent review after several years of complaints from economic analysts and policymaking institutions about the output of the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The review was announced as part of the Chancellor’s “Productivity Plan” and will be led by the former deputy governor of the Bank of England, Sir Charles Bean.

The Independent exclusively revealed in 2011 that senior members of the Bank were unhappy with the output of the ONS, feeling that initial estimates of growth were inaccurate and that some reports were being delayed. Since then Mark Carney, the Bank’s Governor, has also compared the quality of national statistics in the UK unfavourably with those in his native Canada.

The Treasury said the review would help the Government and policymakers make the “finest possible” assessment of the UK’s productivity performance and measure output “in a modern and increasingly technological economy”.

Andrew Tyrie, the chairman of the Commons Treasury Committee, said that given the concerns, “carrying on as we are is not an option”.

Sir Andrew Dilnot, head of the UK Statistics Authority, which oversees the ONS, said the review will be “an important opportunity to help meet the ... challenges of the statistical measurement of the modern economy”.

Private sector economists, who often complain about the output of the agency, welcomed the move. “It can only help matters.  There is a clear issue with the ONS data, particularly on productivity,” said Andrew Goodwin of Oxford Economics.

But others were sceptical. “If it’s directed to getting to the bottom of the productivity puzzle, I think they’ll be disappointed” said Jamie Murray, a former staff member of the Office for Budget Responsibility.

Last year the ONS commissioned its own independent review of its work, led by Dame Kate Barker, a former member of the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee. The review found the ONS’s data was “of a good standard” although it did recommend some improvements.

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