Government statisticians stop early access to data after reports of suspicious market movements

 
Jasper Jolly
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Reports of suspicious movements ahead of data releases had surfaced (Source: Getty)

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) will no longer give early access to government ministers and other officials after reports of a string of suspicious market movements ahead of data releases.

The early release of data to government officials will cease from 1 July. As many as 114 figures across government have early access to the data, including the chancellor, the chief secretary to the Treasury, and a wide variety of other officials.

The UK's national statistician, John Pullinger, informed the UK Statistics Authority of the decision today.

Read more: End the undemocratic 'pre-release access' to stats to stop market abuse

The ONS said there was no suggestion there had been any leaks, but a spokesperson said it was "concerned that public trust is undermined by the present practice, and it is important that ministers and official are above suspicion".

The head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, said he "warmly welcomed" the move. It had previously called for a change in policy.

In an emailed letter to the ONS Norgrove said: "Equality of access to official statistics is a fundamental principle of statistical good practice, and the existence of pre-release access undermines trust in our official statistics system."

The move comes after a March Wall Street Journal report which said government bond futures were showing suspicious market movements ahead of data releases.

Last month in the pages of City A.M. the head of the Royal Statistical Society (RSS), Hetan Shah, called for the policy to be reversed.

Today he said: “This is extremely welcome news. It’s a major achievement for the RSS and our members. It will reduce the opportunities for figures to be ‘spun’ and increase public confidence in official statistics. It will also reduce the risk of market-sensitive information being leaked or abused.

"We hope it will set an example for other government departments to follow and bring forward the day when pre-release access to all official statistics is ended.”

The government should investigate the source of data leaks if the change in practice prevents suspicious market movements, according to Sam Bowman, executive director of the Adam Smith Institute.

"It really does look like somebody was leaking this information," he said. "The UK is almost unique in these market movements."

The move will probably limit insider trading, Bowman said, as well as preventing the government from pre-preparing its own message.

"It's very encouraging in an era when economists and wonks are not necessarily held in high regard. It's a win for the good guys," Bowman added.

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