Troubled statistics office delays low pay data

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The Government's beleaguered statistics office suffered a fresh blow last night when it postponed plans to publish figures on low pay.

The Office for National Statistics said it had delayed producing estimates of the number of people paid below the minimum wage - due out tomorrow - "to complete quality assurance processes".

It is the latest in a series of anomalies over official figures in recent months. Last month the ONS doubled its estimate of the economic growth rate, casting doubt over the recent interest rate decisions by the Bank of England. There have also been revisions to import figures and estimates of pension wealth as well as criticism of the results of the 2001 census.

Yesterday's decision comes hours ahead of testimony by Len Cook, the National Statistician, to MPs this afternoon. Mr Cook has been summoned to appear before the Commons Treasury sub-committee and will be grilled over the quality of his office's figures.

The Statistics Commission, a non-statutory watchdog, is also investigating the recent revisions as part of a wide-ranging review.

An ONS spokesman said the low pay figures had been delayed in order to compare the figures from the labour force survey, which uses a different methodology "to ensure they are not out of line".

However, he denied there was a new policy to review all new publications in the light of the recent controversies.

"It is certainly the case that it is better to postpone releases rather than correct them later if it were found there were mistakes," he said. Coincidentally, the TUC released its own estimates showing 170,000 workers were being paid less money than they were legally entitled to. About £13m has been recovered from firms found to be paying less than the minimum wage since it was launched in April 1999.

The TUC published a new guide, in conjunction with the Low Pay Network, giving advice to workers to make sure they were being given the correct rate.

Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary said: "There must be no hiding place for rogue bosses."