Hunt for stats boss in turmoil

THE search to replace the outgoing head of Britain’s statistics watchdog is in turmoil, City A.M. has learned, after the government’s nominee withdrew her candidacy.

Dame Janet Finch, former vice-chancellor of Keele University, was hand-picked by the government to chair the UK Statistics Authority last month – but she failed to convince a committee of powerful MPs she was up to the job.

Dame Janet performed badly at her pre-appointment hearing in front of MPs on the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) last week, leading some members to ask her whether she was a “stooge” for the government.

Rather than be rejected by PASC, Dame Janet decided to withdraw her candidacy. The Cabinet Office could announce the news as early as today.

Her withdrawal from the process at such a late stage means it will be impossible to find a replacement by next month, when outgoing chair Sir Michael Scholar departs.

A source close to the recruitment process said: “No-one – not even the Cabinet Office – thought this was the right appointment.”

PASC’s decision to assert its authority reflects growing unease among statisticians over the way the government uses official data.

“What we really need to make the next step forward is a candidate that will challenge the way the civil service produces statistics, which has been largely unchanged for years,” said Simon Briscoe of Timetric.

He added: “The next chair of the Statistics Authority should have the desire to challenge the system.”