Reporting concerns under the Code of Practice for Statistics
This guidance supersedes all previous Government Statistical Service guidance about reporting breaches of the Code of Practice for Statistics
|Publication date:||5 January 2022|
|Owner:||Mark Pont (Office for Statistics Regulation), Martin Ralphs (ONS) and Tegwen Green (ONS)|
|Who this is for:||Members of the Government Statistical Service|
|Contact:||GSS Help (GSSHelp@statistics.gov.uk) (primary contact) Office for Statistics Regulation (Regulation@statistics.gov.uk)|
The United Kingdom Statistics Authority (UKSA) has a statutory obligation under the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 to promote and safeguard good practice in relation to official statistics. The Code of Practice for Statistics requires producers of official statistics to report concerns about three areas to the Authority:
- Producers should report concerns about professional independence immediately to the Chief Statistician in the Devolved Administrations and to the National Statistician (Practice T2.7).
- Producers should report concerns about accidental or wrongful release immediately to the Chief Statistician in the Devolved Administrations and to the National Statistician (Practice T2.7).
- Producers should report concerns about meeting the principles of the Code of Practice to the Director General for Regulation (Practice T2.8).
Producers of official statistics can raise any query or concern about compliance with the Code with the Office for Statistics Regulation . The concern does not have to fall under one of these three points.
The Code gives specific instructions about who each type of concern should be reported to, but it is sensible to raise concerns with both the National Statistician and the Director General for Regulation.
This guidance sets out the process that producers should use to manage and escalate concerns. It also gives examples of issues that might require escalation.
Raising and reporting concerns
Throughout this guidance we use the term “departmental leads” to refer to the:
- Chief Statistician in each Devolved Administration
- departmental Head of Profession or
- named Lead Official in an Arm’s Length Body
You should always report concerns about compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics to the appropriate departmental lead first. This should be done as soon as possible.
The process of reporting concerns means being open about mistakes and the actions we need to take to correct them. This is important for building and maintaining public trust in statistics and to help producers of statistics to learn and improve. By being open about concerns we enhance the transparency and public accountability of the statistical system. By offering transparency when things go wrong and highlighting the improvements made afterwards we can positively improve trustworthiness.
In many cases, concerns can be handled locally. Departmental leads should make sure they have appropriate procedures and governance in place to monitor and handle concerns. Departmental leads should also consider whether any form of public statement or other material would be helpful to inform and reassure users.
The departmental lead should use their professional judgement to decide when to escalate a concern to either the National Statistician or the Director General for Regulation, or to handle it locally. Judgement will often be needed, in particular where a series of minor issues collectively might give cause for concern. The Office for Statistics Regulation can advise and support producers to help them decide whether to raise a concern.
Escalating concerns to the National Statistician and the Office for Statistics Regulation
When a producer organisation decides to escalate a concern, they should report it as soon as possible to the National Statistician and to the Office for Statistics Regulation. Producers should always copy the details by email to National.Statistician@statistics.gov.uk and to Regulation@statistics.gov.uk.
The main priority is to resolve and minimise the impact of concerns as quickly as possible. This will be done by assessing the severity of the situation. The National Statistician and the Office for Statistics Regulation will work together to provide support and advice. It is likely to be helpful for the producer organisation to make a public statement to inform and reassure users.
The Office for Statistics Regulation will consider on a case-by-case basis whether it would be appropriate for the regulator to make a public statement or write privately or publicly to relevant parties.
What do we mean by a concern?
It is not possible to give a fixed definition of what constitutes a “concern”. As a guide, we suggest that where an issue results in material reputational risk to any aspect of the statistical system it would be sensible to regard it as a concern. This includes the potential for reputational risk to:
- the statistics themselves
- the statistical team
- statistical teams in other departments
- the integrity of the statistical system more widely
Examples and discussion
We have set out some examples of potential concerns below. The examples are given to help departmental leads and their teams to decide whether to escalate a concern. We have included discussion points after some examples to explore the issues they raise in more detail.
Concerns that should be reported to the National Statistician and Office for Statistics Regulation
Disorderly release of statistics that undermines trust
These are cases where disorderly release damages trust, or risks other significant negative outcomes. Cases in this category include:
- market-sensitive statistics being released early or late or not at all
- market-sensitive statistics being made selectively available ahead of scheduled publication to parties who are not eligible to see them
- time-critical statistics being released early or late or not at all
- other important or high-profile statistics being released early or significantly late
- statistics being shared ahead of publication in such a way that risks the release of the statistics appearing to be disorderly
- unpublished statistics being quoted by a Minister of State, for example in a parliamentary debate
These are all situations where important statistics are not released at the scheduled time, or have been made available selectively. This undermines equality of access and the risk of a significant negative impact for users and the public good is highly likely. Disorderly release of statistics in these situations means that there is a serious risk that trustworthiness, quality, and public value will be undermined.
It is clearly important for market-sensitive or other time-critical statistics to be released exactly on time. Departmental leads and their teams will need to decide the level of material risk for delays to other important statistics. The selective early release of prominent statistics will always risk negative publicity.
In the case that pre-release access rules have been broken, it is important to consider:
- the knowledge and experience of those who had access
- whether the disorderly release came from outside or within the producer body
- the reasons why the responsible people had access to the information
- the risks associated with the breadth of the networks of the responsible people, particularly in the case of more senior individuals
Confidential or unpublished information is released
Cases in this category include:
- releasing confidential information about people, businesses or other relevant parties, whether accidentally or deliberately
- sending disclosive information to another government department in error
- leaking unpublished data to a newspaper or making data available to other unauthorised parties
The release of information to unauthorised parties undermines trustworthiness. It can have profound consequences for the parties whose data are made public. Incidents like this can attract significant media attention. Even if they do not there is significant risk of reputational damage. Unauthorised release also raises concerns about data security and the potential for misinterpretation of numbers not in their final form. This risks a wider impact on trustworthiness and quality.
Concerns about malpractice or malice around any release practice
This category includes political or other pressure to bring forward, change, suppress or delay the release of official statistics that could undermine the Code of Practice.
A significant error is discovered in a statistical output
This category covers wide-ranging issues with the data that feed into National Statistics or high-profile official statistics. These issues are likely to compromise quality and affect usability.
The departmental lead should use their judgement to decide whether to escalate concerns about quality. The decision to raise a concern will depend on the:
- impact of the issue on users
- resulting risks for decision making
- consequences for trustworthiness, quality and public value
By being open and transparent about significant quality concerns we can promote trustworthiness and support users to work with statistics responsibly.
Concerns about release practices that would usually be handled locally
A minor delay to the release of a statistical output
An example in this category would be a delay of 15 minutes to statistics after the scheduled release time because of an issue with a web server. The issue is resolved and the output is published normally once the issue is resolved.
When statistics are not market-sensitive, time-critical or high profile, it is usually sufficient to handle a concern like this locally. The departmental lead should make the final decision on whether to escalate the concern. They should consider the
- profile of the statistics
- reasons for the delay
- length of the delay
- impact on users
Pre-release statistics are shared with an unauthorised local third party
Examples in this category include:
- a member of the departmental press office on the pre-release access (PRA) list sharing pre-release statistics with three colleagues in the same office who are not on the PRA list.
- an analyst accidentally sending pre-release statistics to a colleague who has moved roles and is no longer on the PRA list.
Unauthorised pre-release access always negatively impacts on trustworthiness. In these examples, the statistics did not leave the organisation and were shared with a small group of colleagues in the same team. These colleagues would be expected to understand their responsibilities in relation to receiving the statistics in error. Departmental leads should consider escalation if the unauthorised pre-release access involves a wider group where there is a substantial risk of onward circulation, misinterpretation or misuse. This is especially important if the statistics are shared outside the organisation or have the potential to be shared outside of the organisation.
Expectations about local monitoring
When handling concerns locally, the departmental lead and their team should have a process in place to log concerns and how they are addressed. The team should follow up as necessary to ensure that sufficient action has been taken to mitigate any negative impacts. It would also be sensible to review whether appropriate mitigation is in place for other statistics where same concern could apply.
There is no requirement for minor concerns to be reported to the National Statistician and the Director General for Regulation. If the departmental lead decides that an issue of local concern should be reported to either or both of them, they can do so.
As part of its regulatory oversight of the statistical system, the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) may choose to follow up on any issues that it becomes aware of. This includes issues that statistical teams or departmental leads draw attention to or that the Office for Statistics Regulation observes itself. Follow up actions could include using the circumstances to shape its regulatory work programme, or taking action to address the issue more swiftly.
|5 January 2022||Version 1.0 of the guidance was published.|