The Office for National Statistics (ONS) welcomes the findings of the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) consultation on release times.
The Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 (SRSA) established the Authority with the statutory objective of "promoting and safeguarding the production and publication of official statistics that serve the public good". The "public good" includes informing the public about social and economic matters.
In fulfilling its statutory mission, the ONS works hard to brings its statistics, analysis and commentary to the widest possible audiences.
Previously, under regulations made under the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007, the ONS briefed certain accredited news agencies on some market-sensitive economic releases shortly in advance of the standard 9:30am publications under secure conditions that ensured they could not be reported until publication time but would enable orderly release of statistics.
As set out by the National Statistician, because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, this practice has been suspended and the release time of affected statistics brought forward to 7am.
The earlier release time has better positioned these important statistics in the daily news cycle and made them more accessible to large audiences. It has also provided greater opportunity for the voices of the producers of statistics to be heard directly through media channels and reduced the scope for key data to be misrepresented.
The flexibility of publishing times during the pandemic has also enabled the ONS to publish vital statistics at the earliest opportunity, without waiting for the set release time of 9:30am the following day. Latest data from the COVID-19 Infection Survey have been released at 12pm or 2pm according to circumstance.
We welcome the decision by the OSR to confirm that the release-time exemptions granted during the pandemic will be incorporated into the revised Code of Practice.
The principle of equality of access to statistics is also well-established and one to which the ONS has always been firmly committed. The orderly release of statistics has continued for two years throughout the pandemic without the use of secure briefings. These briefings can therefore no longer be justified as an exemption to the principle of equal access and the ONS does not intend to reinstate them. Instead, we will explore with media organisations and others alternative mechanisms for bringing statistics to wide audiences quickly and accurately at the point of release.