The Authority’s role in making public interventions on the use of statistics
We use our voice to stand up for statistics and to represent the public, reporting publicly where we have concerns and highlighting good practice.
The Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 (SRSA) established the UK Statistics Authority with the statutory objective of “promoting and safeguarding the production and publication of official statistics that serve the public good”. This includes regulating quality and publicly challenging the misuse of statistics.
The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR), the Authority’s independent regulatory arm, is responsible for managing the casework function, undertaking monitoring to identify issues and investigating concerns raised with the Authority. This policy sets out how the UK Statistics Authority and OSR decide when it will or will not intervene. To find out more about our casework process and how to highlight a concern visit the casework pages on the OSR website.
The topics covered by casework can be varied. It could relate to use of statistics or compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics, including quality or presentation. We are guided by our commitment to statistics that demonstrate trustworthiness, quality and value and will be proportionate in judging when we intervene.
Use of statistics
When considering issues around the use of statistics we recognise that the context is important. We do not seek to be a mediator in political debate and it is not for us to take a view on decisions made on the basis of statistics. However, we will stand up for appropriate use of statistics. We will intervene if:
• official statistics are shared before publication
• the advice of professional statisticians is ignored, or
• official statistics or data used in a document or statement are presented in such a way that, in the Authority’s opinion, they are likely to mislead the public or undermine the integrity of official statistics
In considering whether documents or statements are liable to mislead, we judge whether, on a question of significant public interest, the way statistics are used is likely to leave a reasonable person believing something which the full statistical evidence would not support. We take into account:
• the context in which the statement is made (for example, distinguishing speeches and publications from off-the-cuff remarks in interviews or debate)
• the standing of the person responsible for the misleading statement (for example, whether that person, by virtue of holding a public office would be expected to make authoritative statistical statements)
• the extent to which the statement might be misleading – for example, if we think the statement is materially wrong to the point it could change the conclusion of a reasonable person
• the extent to which the statement might undermine public confidence in the integrity of official statistics
• whether this is the first time the issue has arisen, or whether it is a repeated issue
We monitor the use of data and investigate concerns where we see unpublished figures – such as management information or models – being used publicly to inform Parliaments, the media and the public. In deciding whether to intervene we consider whether:
• equality of access has been preserved
• data quoted are material to public debate
• data are being used to justify important government decisions
• there is appropriate explanation of context and sources, including being clear about caveats and quality concerns
• figures form part of a coherent narrative across different sources of information
Production of statistics
We will look into concerns we identify or that are raised with us about potential breaches of the Code of Practice for Statistics. We seek to be proportionate and take into account:
• if the issue relates to official statistics (including National Statistics or Experimental Statistics)
• the impact of the breach
• whether the issue has already been raised directly with the organisation responsible for producing the statistics
In some cases we will not intervene through casework, but the issue raised will prompt us to undertake some other regulatory activity, such as a compliance check or an Assessment.
While our statutory remit covers ‘official statistics’, we take a broad view of what falls within our scope. For many who see the publication of numerical information, the distinction between ‘official statistics’ and other data may seem artificial. As a result, we consider issues that may be perceived as official statistics, whether or not they are official statistics.
On occasion we will informally consider issues around production or use of data by organisations outside government, for example if an issue is raised with us in relation to an organisation that has voluntarily adopted the Code of Practice, or there are concerns around local authority data which are of national significance.
We consider the use of statistics and data by members of governments across the UK. We also expect members of the opposition in each nation to adhere to the same standards we expect from ministers when quoting statistics in public debate.
In determining what to publish we consider the public interest in the issue and the value in making correspondence and statements public. For example, we will make our judgement public where we consider there is a likelihood of the public being misled on an issue of significant public interest. If an issue has been raised with us in a formal manner by a public figure (such as a Member of Parliament) or organisation we would usually publish the incoming correspondence and any of our own subsequent correspondence. We will only publish correspondence we receive from others where we have permission from the correspondent.
All cases are recorded in our issues log – whether internally generated or externally raised and whether our response is published or not.
Published or private correspondence will usually come from the Director General for Regulation, or a member of the Office for Statistics Regulation. When the issue relates to broader political use, especially by Ministers and elected representatives, the Authority Chair will respond.
The UK Statistics Authority Board keeps its practices under regular review. If you have any feedback or queries please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
UK Statistics Authority – May 2021