Serving the public good and the release of statistics – an explainer about the public good test

The Office for Statistics Regulation, the regulatory arm of the UK Statistics Authority, is conducting a public consultation on a change to the Code of Practice for Statistics about the time of release of statistics.

When deciding the best time to release statistics we believe that the impact on serving the public good should be carefully considered.

Statistics are a public asset and should serve the public good. This means that statistics should not only support the work of government but also serve society more broadly. For us, this means enabling public debate and the accountability of government, as well as ensuring the information required to make important decisions is available when needed.

Considering the public good

In deciding the time and manner of release, considering the public good means understanding the wider nature of the use of the statistics and how the public access statistics – direct from producers, via the media or other means – and how this release supports both debate and decision making. It means that producers should consider the way their statistics inform and benefit society.

The key characteristics of acceptable statistical practice for the timing of release involve evidence of user needs, transparency, independence and being orderly.

We expect statistical producers to be open about when they plan to release statistics, how they came to their decision of release time, and to protect the statistics from interference by any vested interests.

We endorse the benefits of publishing at standard release times, with fair notice for users about when the statistics will be made available.

It is critical for keeping the confidence of users that any changes to planned times of release are also made public, along with their justification.

The release time practice

The standard release time is currently 9.30am which was established in the Release Protocol of the National Statistics Code of Practice for market sensitive statistics back in the early 2000s. The specific time is somewhat arbitrary but reflected the desire at the time to ensure that statistics were released during the then-traditional working day for markets, and so that users were able to respond to the latest statistics.

Following the introduction of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 in April 2008, the Code of Practice for Official Statistics was produced by the new UK Statistics Authority and published in January 2009. It modified the practice slightly to become generalised to all official statistics: ‘Issue statistical releases at the standard time of 9.30am on a weekday, to maintain consistency and to permit time for users to understand and respond to the information during normal working hours.’ [From Protocol 2 of the Code].

This practice was simplified in the second edition of the Code of Practice in 2018 to its current form: ‘T3.6 Statistics should be released to all users at 9.30am on a weekday’ (in the Trustworthiness pillar).

The consultation

We are proposing a change to this release time practice. We are keen to understand whether there is a preference for continuing release at the standard time of 9.30am. There may be a preference for release at an alternative standard time for all releases. There also may be a desire to release some statistics at an exceptional release time. It was this experience during the pandemic that has prompted this reflection on time of release.

OSR has accepted the requests made to us by statistics producers during the pandemic of the benefits for publishing some statistics at times other than 9.30am. We did so by allowing for an exemption to the release time practice.

We see this consideration by producers as aiming to better serve the wider public good. We want to regularise this move, to bring it within the standards of the Code. Review and approval of requests for publishing at non-standard times by the Director General for Regulation will ensure statistical independence is maintained.

Applying the public good test

Under the proposals put forward in the consultation, producers will need to make a case for releasing some statistics at an alternative time. They will need to demonstrate how they have considered user need, and they should base their proposal on consideration of the factors outlined above: transparency, independence and orderly release.

In this way, in considering individual cases where producers see a need to change release time, the proposals seek to shift from the Covid situation of ad hoc exemptions reflecting the abnormal circumstances, to a more structured and transparent consideration of release times with the public good paramount.

We are interested in how stakeholders access official statistics, and what factors they consider to be relevant in determining the public good of different release times.

The consultation runs until 21 December 2021. We do encourage all stakeholders to share their views by emailing