PM cautioned over economic data
David Cameron has been cautioned by a watchdog over the potential for undermining public trust in official statistics after he was accused of giving an early hint of secret economic data.
The Prime Minister told the Commons on Wednesday that positive news "will keep coming" - before Thursday morning's official release of GDP figures showing the UK was out of recession. He is one of a select group of ministers and officials given 24 hours' notice of sensitive data under strict rules that it cannot be publicised in any way.
After receiving "a large number" of queries, the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) - which is opposed to the use of pre-release - looked into whether Mr Cameron had breached those rules.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, UKSA chairman Andrew Dilnot reminded him of a requirement not to disclose "any suggestion of the size or direction of any trend".
"It is clear from media reports that, although this may not have been your intent, your remarks were indeed widely interpreted as providing an indication about the GDP figures."
Mr Dilnot said it was a "clear example of the difficulties and risks created by the current arrangements" for pre-release and repeated demands for a review of the system. "It is our view that the current pre-release access arrangements undermine public confidence in official statistics and the professional independence of statisticians", he warned.
At Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Cameron reeled off a list of favourable recent economic indicators, before telling Labour leader Ed Miliband: "I can tell you, the good news will keep coming."
Labour said the comment was a "clear reference" to the GDP figures for the last quarter, which showed an unexpectedly high 1% increase when they were eventually published on Thursday morning. Mr Cameron's official spokesman denied the claim.
But Mr Dilnot - who has dubbed the pre-release arrangements "absurd" - said the controversy highlighted the need for reform of the system. Changes were promised by the Tories before the 2010 general election but have since been refused by ministers despite the watchdog's persistent campaigning.
A Number 10 spokesman said: "The PM was talking about recent good news on the economy, unemployment, crime and the health service. He did not refer to the GDP figures, and the UK Statistics Authority has not found that there was any breach of the code."