Government departments are breaking secrecy rules governing the handling of confidential statistics on average once every three months, the new head of the UK Statistics Authority has warned.
Speaking to The Independent, Andrew Dilnot said that officials given access to market-sensitive data 24 hours before it is made public by the Office for National Statistics are accidentally but routinely disseminating the information to individuals who are not authorised to receive it.
This raises the danger that people could use the information such as official inflation statistics and GDP estimates to make profits in financial markets.
Today's first estimate of GDP data for the first quarter of 2012 was received yesterday morning by 34 officials, ministers and special advisers, including the Chancellor and the Prime Minister.
Mr Dilnot, who took up his position at the beginning of April, said: "About every three months or so there will be a breach of pre-release access arrangements."And though they were accidental, the breaches could facilitate insider trading.
The most recent unauthorised release of market sensitive data was on 19 December when a senior official at Vince Cable's Business Department sent an preview of the previous month's Consumer Prices Index to 45 other officials.
Mr Dilnot said he intends to press for the Government to ditch the practice, or at least drastically reduce the time that ministers and civil servants have privileged advanced access to statistics.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "Giving a very small number of named individuals access to statistics shortly before publication ensures that ministers can provide an immediate explanation of key government issues." Since January 2009 the UK Statistics Authority has had to censure ministers 17 times for breaches of pre-release rules