Dear Professor Whitty

Transparency of data related to COVID-19

Thank you for taking the time to speak to Sir David Norgrove, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority yesterday. I am writing to draw your attention to the statement published today by the Office for Statistics Regulation on communicating data during the pandemic.

Our aim is to uphold public confidence in statistics that serve the public good. During the pandemic there have been high profile public briefings, media interviews and statements in each of the four nations of the UK. These have rightly drawn on data and analysis.

We welcome the range of data that has been published and we recognise that those producing the data and advising Government face significant pressures.

However, the use of data has not always been supported by transparent information being provided in a timely manner. As a result, there is potential to confuse the public and undermine confidence in the statistics.

Our statement reinforces the principle that data should be published in a clear and accessible form with appropriate explanations of context and sources. We highlight three things which governments should do to support transparency:

  • Where data are used publicly the sources of these data or the data themselves should be published alongside any press briefing and associated slides.
  • Where models are referred to publicly, particularly to inform significant policy decisions, the model outputs, methodologies and key assumptions should be published at the same time.
  • Where key decisions are justified by reference to statistics or management information, the underlying data should be made available.

I know that you take these principles very seriously and welcome your support in encouraging adherence to them.

I am writing in the same terms to the UK Government’s Chief ScientiChief Statisticians of the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland administration. I am copying this letter to Professor Sir Ian Diamond, National Statistician.

Yours sincerely

Ed Humpherson
Director General for Regulation