Parliament backs plans to limit advanced access to stats for Scottish ministers

Plans to limit ministers’ early access to statistics have been backed by MSPs despite the Government claiming it makes them “more transparent”.

The bill was discussed at the Scottish Parliament
The bill was discussed at the Scottish Parliament

Currently, government ministers are given official statistics up to five days before they are published and can be seen by the public or other political parties.

A Bill has been introduced that would only allow ministers advanced sight of new statistic one day ahead of publication.

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Holyrood’s Economy Committee proposed the Pre-release Access to Official Statistics (Scotland) Bill and its convener Gordon Lindhurst argued: “Data should be available on an equal and not a privileged basis.”

Referencing Scottish ministers having up to five days of early access to data, Mr Lindhurst quoted the Royal Statistical Society who said: “Scotland is very much an anomaly relative to almost the whole developed world.”

In Scotland, official statistics are available to ministers five days ahead of publication except for market-sensitive data such as GDP statistics, retail sales and Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) figures, which can be seen one day in advance.

The Bill would change the law so that all economic statistics can only be shared with ministers one day before they are published, with early access for GDP and retail sales stopped after two years.

The Scottish Government’s public finance minister Ben Macpherson insisted there was “nothing inappropriate about pre-release access to official statistics.”

He said: “The current, carefully-controlled use of pre-release access to statistics confers benefits which outweigh the risks, as government prides itself on operating in an open and transparent way.”

The Bill passed stage one with 60 votes in favour, two against and 54 abstentions.