MSPs on Holyrood’s Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee have today proposed the introduction of a Committee Bill which would limit pre-release access (PRA) that Scottish Government Ministers and officials currently have to key economic data.
PRA is the practice of making official statistics, and the written commentary that accompanies them, available in advance of publication to specific individuals not involved in their production. In most cases this includes Government Ministers and officials who advise them.
The Committee came to the majority view that the practice of early access to economic statistics, namely GDP and the Retail Sales Index for Scotland, should end.
Committee Convener, Gordon Lindhurst MSP, said:
“Statistics are a public asset and the remit of our original inquiry was to examine the accuracy, utility and understanding of economic data.
“From this we made 29 recommendations aimed at improving Scotland’s economic data of which the majority were accepted.
“It has been over a year since we published our initial report and the Scottish Government has not changed its view on PRA. Therefore, the Committee has decided to take its own action to deal with PRA.”
Mr Lindhurst added:
“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.”
On reaching this conclusion the Committee proposed three strands within the Committee Bill to ending the current PRA practice. These include:
• removal of PRA entirely for two specific categories (GDP and Retails Sales) of economic statistics;
• A phased approach and an independent review of the impact of the removal of PRA.
• Reducing from five working days to one working day the PRA for those economic statistics where five working days is currently the maximum.
The published report which proposes a Committee Bill can be found here.
Currently under the Pre-Release Access to Official Statistics Act (Scotland) Order 2008, it allows PRA for market-sensitive statistics a maximum of one working day before publication, and for other statistics a maximum of five working days before publication.
Angela Constance MSP, Gordon MacDonald MSP, John Mason MSP and Colin Beattie MSP did not wish to proceed forward with a Committee Bill/ dissented from the Committee Bill proposal.
The Bill will not:
• remove anything from the Scottish Government or its ministers that the UK Government or specific Whitehall departments retain;
• make any stipulations on any sets of data other than those categories of economic statistics specified. It will not, for example, address health or education statistics, and;
• call into question the integrity or professionalism of Scottish Government statisticians or other civil servants working in the field of economic or other areas of data.