British Government Statisticians Launch Review After Doubt On Data

By Agence France-Presse Britain's official statistics watchdog said Oct. 9 that it was reviewing the methods of the country's number-crunchers in the wake of embarrassing corrections including a recent revelation that the economy is growing twice as fast as originally thought. The probe was decided on last week following public and government concern when growth figures for the first six months of 2003 were radically upgraded, the chief executive of the Statistics Commission said. "We will look at what has caused the revision. Was it an error with a computer system? Is there a pattern?" said Richard Alldritt, whose office oversees the government's use of official statistics. "We have never had a review quite like this, a review of revisions," he said. Last week faulty data for the construction industry was blamed as statisticians announced that gross domestic product (GDP) had grown 0.6% in the second quarter of 2003, against the previous three months, rather than 0.3% as initially thought. Growth estimates also were revised upward for the first quarter of the year to a quarterly rate of 0.2% from 0.1%, due to a re-calculation of spending on business services. The changes by National Statistics prompted some economists to question whether the Bank of England had been right to cut interest rates to a 48-year low of 3.5% in July in an effort to speed up growth. There were three possible reasons for revisions in data, said Alldritt: planned changes to methodology, unexpected shocks -- such as the discovery of massive fraud in the direct sales tax VAT which played havoc with recent current account deficit figures, and apparent mistakes. It was the last category which would be targeted, said Alldritt. "It is only the third category which we can do something about. We want to look at these more closely and see if there is a particular pattern or underlying rationale," he said. It is vital that the National Statistics office's work is credible, he said. "One of the things that concerns us is that there has been a great deal of media comment which implies this is all the fault of [National Statistics], and that they are not doing their job properly," he said. "A consequence of that could be creating a climate where statisticians are not able to make a revision because it is so explosive -- that would be in no one's interest, that could lead to bad information." Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2003

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.