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Friday, 8 January 2010

STOP PRESS - NATIONAL STATISTICS FAIL

It appears that Eurostat is vewy vewy cross with us over the quality our national statistics. Newstime reports on a Commissioned-approved memo from the European Statistics Agency which reports an amazing catalogue of FAILZ on behalf of our statistical agencies. Newstime had a great scoop there, as the FT and the rest of the financial press didn't get hold of this story for a couple of days.




Apparently Eurostat seem to think we have no regard for reporting standards. Additionally, there's no telling who has what data, whether they can release them, and whether they're worth releasing in the first place. Eurostat apparently had to get some it over the phone from LOLmerchants back home.

The culture shock experienced by the Eurostat people can be summed up in the following quote from the report:

"Questions from Eurostat went unanswered for no less than 9 days, an abnormally long period, between 12 and 21 October."
HOW MANY DAYS??? ROFLMAO!!!!!

Apparently now they are going to sue our account fiddling asses.

What's amazing is that none of our successive governments have managed to get this house of cards in order. The problem is systemic. I do hope our current government's plans for an independent statistics agency  as well as a Public Payroll Authority will help address this to some extent. Independence of course is a relative term and even an independent agency can miss out on the detail if expenditure items and liabilities are mislabelled or misidentified. So let's try this:

  • The core remit of the agency should not be liable to change by legislative acts. 
  • The agency should answer not to the government but to parliament and additionally to a permanent committee of parliament
  • The agency's compensation should be pegged to other civil servant salary bands
  • The agency's leadership should be appointed by parliament and its tenure should be longer than the life of parliament.
  • The agency should be committed to European standards of data quality and should flag any of its own data that cannot be guaranteed to comply with these as -at best- experimental, or note the percentage of compliant data.
  • The agency should report to Eurostat on the quality of statistics on a regular basis and management should be incentivised to improve quality. 
  • The agency should be allowed to sign off its own data without external approval.
  • The agency should report on the extent of past revisions to data and be accountable to government for large adjustments.
  • The agency should adopt international financial reporting standards for the public sector, regardless of the accounting conventions adopted by the government. Failing that, it should benchmark against the accounting conventions of a trustworthy EU country.
  • The agency should explicitly account for the income and expenditures, as well as the assets and liabilities of any organisations that it judges to be dependent on the state for their income, as well as any organisations that are majority owned by the government.
  • And of course, the agency should count PPP liabilities against government debt. Otherwise PPP becomes a trick for disguising public sector debt
  • I won't go so far as to ask for unfunded public sector pensions to be accounted for, as much as I'd like that. That could make national statistics too scary to publish.

That's a start. Hint to George MUPPET Romaios: at least the Germans know what their deficit is.

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