Letter:Statistical oversight by advisory committees

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From Mr John Monks Sir: In your valedictory interview, the head of the Government Statistical Service, Bill McLennan, sets a powerful agenda for restoring confidence in official unemployment figures ("Lies, damn lies and figures that try to tell the truth", 19 December). The TUC has argued for some time that developing the Labour Force Survey (LFS) will improve our understanding of changes in Britain's labour markets. The introduction of quarterly, instead of annual, LFS reports a couple of years ago was an important move. Mr McLennan's suggestion to develop the LFS further with a monthly estimate of unemployment, using the standard definitions set down by the International Labour Organisation, is an excellent idea and one to which I hope the Secretaryof State for Employment will respond positively.

However, it is important in expanding the LFS to retain the statistics we already have. The credibility of the claimant count has indeed suffered as a measure of unemployment, but it does count accurately the number of people able to claim benefit and provides detailed local and regional information which LFS data cannot match.

Beyond this, confidence in a statistical measure can be boosted by an independent body overseeing its development. This is one reason why the Retail Prices Index is still one of the most widely accepted measures of inflation by wage bargainers. The TUC has supported the development of a labour market statistics users group, with the full co-operation of Government statisticians, to provide for an informal exchange of views.

There is a case now for the Government going further and setting up a labour market statistics advisory body, similar to that overseeing the RPI.

Yours faithfully, JOHN MONKS General Secretary Trades Union Congress London, WC1

19 December

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