Sunday, 31 May 2015

Campaign Letter #9: Statistics.

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Royal Statistical Society’s Data Manifesto.

You need not have any concern as to my appreciation of the importance of statistics.  As a geology graduate, geophysical engineer and planner, I know the valuable of accurate data only too well.  When I heard of the Royal Statistical Society Data Manifesto, I actually sought them out on Twitter, asking to be signed up.

In the realm of politics, national statistics are an absolutely essential tool for politicians and the public. They let us all know everything from the number of people in work to the number of people coming in and out of the country. Not only are statistics crucial for policymakers, but they can be used to hold the Government to account.

Despite having some grounding already, I will happily attend one of the statistics workshops you highlight if I am elected to Parliament in May.  One has to be modest of one's own abilities in any mathematical-based subject and there is always new things to learn.  Any tool that enables a person to gain more insight should be gladly received.

I agree that it is very important for policymakers to have a good grasp of statistics and, fortunately, MPs and Ministers are well-served by people who are experts in handling statistics.  MPs and their staff are able to use the highly respected specialists in the House of Commons Library, who are able to provide assistance on a plethora of statistics. The Library is impartial and politically neutral. When they provide information, we can be sure it is accurate and unbiased.

Ministers have access to the politically neutral Civil Service, with its hundreds of statistics specialists, while the Office of National Statistics are always happy to make themselves available to MPs and their staff if they have questions about any of the information they release.

A short time before national statistics are released to the public, a handful of very senior Ministers and civil servants in the relevant Government department are provided with the data. I appreciate why some people are concerned about this, but it is an important procedure.  When, for example, unemployment statistics are released every month, the democratically accountable Ministers and the officials who support them are expected to respond immediately to the implications of those statistics, both in public and in Parliament. Given that we expect answers immediately to our questions, I think it is sensible that a few very senior members of the Government are given sight of them first to enable them to prepare effectively.

On a more personal note, I think it is a shame when politicians do not accept facts which are inconvenient to their own views.  When facts become mere ammunition for argument, we all end up being the losers.

Yours sincerely,

Martin Veart
Scottish Liberal Democrats,
Edinburgh North and Leith.

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