Government committed to ‘openness and transparency’ in Covid-19 data – ONS head

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The Government is committed to “openness and transparency” with how data on coronavirus is presented to the public, the UK’s national statistician has insisted.

Professor Sir Ian Diamond, head of the Office for National Statistics (ONS), said that his colleagues were embedded into the “heart” of Government to ensure data presented to the public was at the highest level.

It follows criticism of how figures have been used during the pandemic, with the official statistics watchdog warning ministers and advisers not to use data in ways which can “confuse” the public.

When asked if data had been selected by the Government in order to back up arguments, Sir Ian told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday that this was a view he did not support.

“During the first wave, some of my colleagues were embedded into the heart of Government to make sure that the quality of the presentations that were made to the public were at the highest level, and I think that’s incredibly important,” he said.

Coronavirus – Thu May 7, 2020
National statistician Professor Sir Ian Diamond (PA Video)

“Some of my colleagues will now be going back into the heart of Government, really to work on making sure that the communication of statistics, the graphs you may see, are at the highest possible level.”

On concerns about how data was being presented during the second wave, Sir Ian said: “We at the ONS have been really working tirelessly to make sure that openness and transparency is at the heart of what we do.

“We have a real policy at ONS that we only talk about data which are in the public domain, and I know that that commitment to openness and transparency goes right across Government.”

Ministers faced criticism earlier this month after it emerged key projections for hospital admissions and deaths presented at a Downing Street press conference contained errors.

Top-end projections at the briefing on October 31, suggesting that daily hospital admissions in England could reach nearly 9,000 by early December while daily deaths could hit 1,400, were both revised downwards.

The disclosure came after Tory MPs, led by former prime minister Theresa May, strongly criticised the way the Government used data to justify a second national lockdown in England.

However, ministers have maintained that it was the right decision, saying the NHS faced being overwhelmed if action was not taken to curb the spread of the disease.

Meanwhile, the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) said there was a danger that confidence in official figures will be undermined if they are issued without “appropriate explanations of context and sources”.

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