The UK’s statistics watchdog said Downing Street had been repeatedly warned about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s misleading jobs claims.
Johnson’s leadership credentials have been badly tarnished by controversy and missteps in recent months, leading some of his own lawmakers to call for his resignation.
Ed Humpherson, chief executive of the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), said there had been ‘a series of informal discussions’ before the regulator took the ‘unusual’ decision to issue public rebukes to the n °10 on the same issue twice in the last month.
“It’s not something we do lightly – we’re not aiming to get a certain number of column inches,” Humpherson told the Observer. “And it’s not an intervention on a personal level. We clarify the correct interpretation of these statistics. In a sense, we are on the side of statistics. We are not a referee in the debate.
“I had written to the head of data science in issue 10 about this issue. And that itself followed a series of informal discussions where we said ‘we think you need to review how these numbers are mentioned”.
“We don’t have to do this very often because, on the whole, politicians and people who brief politicians are really trying to get it right. And the general experience is that when they don’t quite understand correctly, they appreciate the clarifications we provide.
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Johnson had recently received a questionnaire from the Metropolitan Police in London as part of the investigation into parties in Downing Street during the COVID lockdowns.
If he is found to have broken his government’s own COVID rules, the beleaguered PM could be fined and face even more pressure to step down from his already furious fellow lawmakers. its closeness to the “partygate” affair.
Johnson brushed off calls to step down over the scandal, promising to reform the way his office is run and insisting he and his government can be trusted.
“It’s unusual. We had to write Matt Hancock twice about the test data in May and early June 2020,” Humperhson said. “It’s unusual, but not unprecedented.
“It was really strong on the role of data, the role of analytics and the role of validation. It’s great,” he said.
Referring to initiatives such as the coronavirus dashboard, he said: “The data revolution in government has happened over time, but the pandemic has really accelerated that. He said it was recognized that data was most useful when linked together from multiple sources, and the Office for National Statistics’ new integrated data service was doing this across government.
“The risk is that the data stays close to the chest,” he said. “And actually what the pandemic shows is that there’s a public appetite to make it available.”
(With agency contributions)