by MONITOR
AS we all know, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. One might expect, however, that statistics issued by Britain's independent Office for National Statistics would be above reproach. Yet yesterday the Office was in the middle of a Whitehall and Westminster row over figures it had released about the number of foreign-born workers in employment in Britain. The creation of the Office for National Statistics was proposed in the Labour Party's election manifesto of 1997 and as Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown later introduced legislation to make it an organisation reporting directly to Parliament instead of to ministers as it had previously done, thereby preventing the use of official statistics for political ends. Unfortunately, the decision of the Office to advance the timing of a release of the figures on foreign workers has been seen as an attempt to provide a commentary on the recent problem over the employment of Italian workers at an oil refinery in Britain. The quality of the statistics has also been questioned. For instance, a “foreign-born” worker may have lived in Britain since childhood and been educated and trained there. Statistics, though often reviled, are at the heart of good policy-making in most walks of life. But they need to be absolutely reliable and opinion-free. The Office for National Statistics should set an example and not get involved in controversy by producing incomplete or questionable information.