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.
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
16 February 2000
1 Not printed. Back