Holyrood committee proposes banning Scottish Government from advance views of economic statistics

Written by Jenni Davidson on 6 June 2019 in News

The Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee have proposed a committee bill which would abolish pre-release access to GDP and the Retail Sales Index for Scotland

Scotland's economy - Image credit: Holyrood

Scottish Government ministers could be prevented from getting advance sight of economic statistics that could allow them time to put a positive spin on them or to “bury bad news”.

Pre-release access (PRA) is the practice of making official statistics and the written commentary that accompanies them available to certain people such as government ministers and officials in advance of publication.

But MSPs on Holyrood’s Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee have proposed the introduction of a committee bill which would abolish this.

A majority of committee members want to end the practice of giving the government advance access to economic statistics such as GDP and the Retail Sales Index for Scotland.

Currently the Pre-Release Access to Official Statistics Act (Scotland) Order 2008 allows PRA for market-sensitive statistics one working day before publication and for other statistics five working days before publication.

The bill proposes a complete end to PRA for GDP and retail sales, while reducing advance access from five working days to one working day for other economic data where five working days is currently the maximum.

Non-economic statistics, such as health or education figures, would not be affected by the bill.

Committee convener Gordon Lindhurst said: “Equal access and earliest release are the principles at the heart of this proposed committee bill.

“The collection of data on the face of it can be viewed as a niche issue, however, it is a fundamental cog in the decision making in government, in business, in social policy, in the press, and in the public mind and that is why the committee has come to this decision.”

Scottish Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, who is also a member of the committee, commented: “Pre-release access to statistics creates an unequal playing field which gives the SNP time to bury bad news and ‘spin’ their government’s multiple failings.

“Although the ONS and the Bank of England have agreed to end pre-release access to economic data south of the border, this is still not the case in Scotland.

“Access to economic statistics should be considered a public asset, not a privileged right.

“SNP government ministers should do the right thing and fully back the committee bill.

“This is standard practice in the rest of the UK, but SNP ministers appear to want to continue to cloak information in secrecy."

SNP committee members Angela Constance, Gordon MacDonald, John Mason and Colin Beattie have opposed the committee bill proposal. 

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