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Pre-release Access to Economic Statistics (Committee Bill Proposal)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 19th September 2019.

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Photo of Dean Lockhart Dean Lockhart Conservative

Part of the debate, which I will come on to, is about aligning the Scottish Government’s approach to pre-release access with the best practice that is followed by the UK Government. That is the whole point of having the debate.

The SNP Government says that it has

“the most open, far-reaching freedom of information laws in the UK”,

but, as we know, the reality is very different. The concerns about open governance and transparency are reflected in the debate. The Scottish Government continues to insist on having pre-release access to vital economic statistics, which is inconsistent with international best practice, transparent government and democratic accountability and fairness. As Alex Rowley rightly said, the lack of access to information at the same time affects the Parliament’s ability to hold the Government to account.

Pre-release access gives the Scottish Government 24 hours or longer to spin a story around key economic figures, no matter how bad they are. That means that, when the information is released to the public, headlines are already dominated by the Scottish Government spin. For example, yesterday’s news that Scotland’s economy is close to recession was dominated by SNP spin that Brexit was to blame. That is an odd excuse, given that the rest of the UK economy, which is subject to the same Brexit uncertainty, is growing at almost twice the rate of the Scottish economy.

The Scottish Conservatives will support the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee’s proposal for a committee bill to equalise access to vital economic statistics. The committee is acting because the Scottish Government has refused to do so. The Government has refused to listen to overwhelming evidence that pre-release access is contrary to the “European Statistics Code of Practice” and the United Nations resolution on the fundamental principles of official statistics.