Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Brilliant program

This 'analysis' report on honest statistics and their importance in driving improvement is spot on from BBC Radio 4.

"This government, when it came in in 1997, threw itself into targets in a far too hurried way, so it was actually setting itself targets using data that didn't exist. Now you know that is just fundamentally daft. "

"Yes, it is quite extraordinary. I mean the Statistics Commission did us a big favour when they put the effort in and ran through all of these targets and found quite a few examples where the government didn�t have any data. There was one on urban congestion that was set by the Department for Transport and the department simply said it is �developing better measures�. And also DEFRA had some targets for food and farming industries where it said that the data was not yet ready to �go live�. So here you have people hoping that something will reduce by 5% or 10% and they haven�t got a baseline point to start from."

"In this country, perhaps more than in any other, figures aren�t very popular anyhow. A lot of people are badly taught mathematics. They�re slightly doubtful about figures anyhow. It�s too easy to make jokes about statistics and all that is a sort of underlay of public opinion. But in addition to that, there is a feeling that there�s too much spin linked with government figures. Politicians have much too much prior knowledge of figures, what we call pre release. Now in most countries politicians get very little pre-knowledge of the figures coming up. Here, they have the figures a couple of days in advance and it must be very tempting, mustn�t it, for the minister to at least hint that there�s good news ahead or bad news ahead if it so suits him or her?"

"I think there�s a two-fold prize. I think there�s a prize in terms of how we feel about ourselves as a democracy; that it would feel as though we had open and fair and equal access to information, so that political decisions which ultimately are what determine policy decisions could be made fairly and justly. I think that would be a major prize, although I suppose not the one that is closest to my heart as a social scientist and an economist. The prize that I think would make the biggest difference is that if we had genuinely independent official statistics, then I think policy making would be better. I think there would be a greater awareness of the underlying state of the economy, the nature of people�s behaviour both as individuals and as companies, which I hope would make a big difference. We�d get specific improvements in policy and I think we�d also find that we were able to think about new areas and change that otherwise might simply be left to the academics and to the think tanks."

Sounds like sense to me. The potential for improvement in public services if neutral statistics were to be gathered by an independent body is enormous. This would replace the dishonest culture of propaganda and spin we currently have, that is driving the service into the ground.


Aphra Behn said...

>> The prize that I think would make the biggest difference is that if we had genuinely independent official statistics

It is completely shocking that this is not the case, of course.

We delegate the responsibility of doing stuff which is too big for individuals to deal with up to local or national government. (If you can delegate something up, but you know what I mean).

The government should be seen as our gofers. How come people who are providing us a service end up with so much power? (I do know the answer to that one, by the way - it's a rhetorical question).

An independent audit office and an independent statistics office. Whay to go!


Garth Marenghi said...

I completely agree, we need an independent audit office and statistics office.

Labour has systematically brough everything vaguely independent under their wings though, all in the name of increasing spinning.

It's had dire consequences on policy, as things are tangibly getting worse but the stats say they're getting better.