Belfast Telegraph

BoE questions competence of national statistics agency

By Ben Chu

The Bank of England has begun to question the competence of the Office for National Statistics.

Senior policymakers at the Bank feel they are being let down by the statistical gathering organisation, which last month announced a delay in the publication of its national accounts statistics, known as the Blue Book, for the second time in two years.

The Blue Book was due to be published on November 1. But the ONS announced in September that the full data will now not be released until November 23, due to the need to make revisions.

The Bank of England was planning to use the Blue Book figures in preparations for its November growth and inflation forecast.

The Bank's report will be published, as scheduled, on November 16, but Threadneedle Street researchers will now not have access to the range of data that they would normally rely upon to make their calculations.

"It's a question of competence, of getting quality data in a timely fashion in the manner of other countries," said a senior source at the Bank.

The frustration over the Blue Book is only the latest in a long line of complaints from Bank officials about the performance of the official statistics-gathering agency.

Andrew Sentance, who left the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) in May, said: "There are long-standing concerns at the Bank about the quality of the economic data from the ONS. My own reaction was not to regard it as gospel. The ONS is like one data point - you have to look at a wide variety."

Mr Sentance also said the Bank's doubts about the reliability of ONS figures is the reason why the MPC has, in recent years, published its own estimates of historic GDP data, alongside those of the ONS, in its quarterly growth forecasts.

In its official 2010/11 assessment of the ONS, the Bank judged the agency's performance "satisfactory", but complained about the 12-day delay in the publication of the 2010 national accounts for the first quarter.

The ONS put the blame for the delay in the Blue Book on a "major new international [data] classification change".

"We gave the Bank exceptionally early pre-release access for operational reasons," said a spokesman.