Select Committee on Treasury Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter to the Treasury Sub-committee from the Greater Manchester Low Pay Unit

We were concerned to note in a report in the Financial Times on 15 February that the Prime Minister may be considering restricting the role of the new independent Statistics Commission. The report suggested that the commission might only be able to comment on topics after a ministerial request to do so.

  We strongly believe in the importance of the independence of the Statistics Commission. We recognise the continuing quality of the statistics currently publicly available, plus the expertise of the Office for National Statistics and its commitment to producing accurate figures which are independent of political manipulation. However, we still believe that it is important that there should be an independent body able to take up issues about the quality and reliability of statistics, and with the power to ensure that there is a proper review of areas of concern.

  I enclose a paper which the Greater Manchester Low Pay Unit recently produced on Jobcentre vacancy statistics.[1] As you will see from the paper, we have considerable concern about the reliability of the statistics, and this concern seems to be borne out by the fact that the ONS discontinued publication of individual Jobcentre vacancy figures last year. However, the figures can still be obtained on request, and would appear to be the basis for recent government statements about there being "a million vacancies" in the economy as a whole.

  In our view the vacancy statistics need a thorough examination to establish a reliable series. Despite the fact that the ONS has discontinued publication due to the figures' unreliability, there appears to be no work being undertaken to identify the problems and to put them right. Given that aspects of economic and social policy are influenced by such statistics, it is vitally important that they should be accurate.

  It seems to us that the Statistics Commission would be exactly the body to look at such issues, but this might be impossible if a minister decided that it would be inappropriate or impolitic to do so. We therefore hope that you will put pressure on the government not to compromise the independence of the Commission. We would also welcome your support for a fresh look at the vacancy statistics.

16 February 2000

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