Statistics office to be freed from Government control

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The Office for National Statistics is to be made independent of Government, Gordon Brown announced today.

Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have long called for the body, which produces key data, to be freed from Government control.

The Chancellor said that plans to do so will be published early in the New Year in a Parliamentary statement.

Ministers hope the move will restore confidence in official statistics and persuade them that public services are improving in the run-up to the next general election.

A recent Mori survey found only 17 per cent of people believed they were produced without political interference.

Now the ONS will be "a wholly separate body at arm's length from the Government and fully independent of it", Mr Brown said.

Speaking at the CBI annual conference, the Chancellor said the reforms would be modelled on the Bank of England independence announced shortly after Labour came to power.

"As with the Bank of England we will legislate for the creation of an independent governing board for the office of statistics with delegated responsibility for meeting an overall objective for the statistical system's integrity," he said.

"As with the Bank of England we will legislate for the appointment of external members to the board drawn from leading experts in statistics."

The board will be accountable to the Commons Treasury Select Committee, the Chancellor said.

"If one looks back to 1997 you can see just how much I have tried to take decisions that should be made entirely on the basis of economics out of politics," he said.

"In these last few years we have removed, where it is right to do so: essential elements of monetary policy and (with the Independent Competition Commission) competition policy and industrial policy and now statistics from the pressures of day to day politics - taking government out of areas where it need not be and government guaranteeing economic decisions are made as they should be - for long-term economic purposes not for short-term partisan gain."

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