Page last updated at 09:13 GMT, Saturday, 13 December 2008

In full: Statistics watchdog letter

The full text of the letter from Sir Michael Scholar, chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, to Jeremy Heywood, Permanent Secretary at the Prime Minister's Office, on the release of knife crime statistics. For the government's response, see below.

Dear Jeremy,

I am writing, as chair of the UK Statistics Authority, to express my concern about yesterday's announcement of statistics related to knife crime.

It has been reported to me by the National Statistician's Office that officials or advisers in No. 10 Downing Street caused the Home Office to issue a press release which prematurely published provisional statistics for hospital admissions for knife or sharp instrument wounding.

This press release said that "the number of teenagers admitted to hospital for knife or sharp instrument wounding in nine...police force areas fell by 27% according to new figures published today".

These statistics were not due for publication for some time, and had not therefore been through the regular process of checking and quality assurance.

The statisticians who produced them, together with the National Statistician, tried unsuccessfully to prevent their premature, irregular and selective release.

I hope you will agree that the publication of prematurely released and unchecked statistics is corrosive of public trust in official statistics, and incompatible with the high standards which we are all seeking to establish.

I would be grateful for your comments, and for your assurance that there will be no repetition of this breach of the National Statistics Code of Practice.

I am copying this letter to the Cabinet Secretary and to David Normington at the Home Office; and, because the UK Statistics Authority reports directly to Parliament, to Tony Wright MP, chair of the Public Administration Select Committee and to Keith Vaz MP, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee.

Yours sincerely

Sir Michael Scholar

Full text of letter from Jeremy Heywood to Sir Michael Scholar

Dear Sir Michael

Thank you for your letter of today's date regarding the publication of statistics relating to knife crime.

First let me make clear that the prime minister and all his ministers, officials and advisers take very seriously the importance of maintaining the integrity of official statistics.

In this case - given continuing strong public interest in knife crime trends and the government's desire to make available the latest relevant management information and data as soon as possible, insufficient attention appears to have been given to the views of the NHS Information Centre statisticians on whether one specific data set included in the Tackling Knives Action Programme Fact Sheet was ready for publication.

The National Statistician's concern about this was only brought to No 10's attention yesterday morning, after the data had already been released.

The prime minister remains strongly committed to building public trust in official statistics and to the new measures he has put in place to safeguard their independence.

In light of your letter, Sir Gus O'Donnell will discuss with the Permanent Secretaries of the departments involved and the National Statistician any lessons to be learned from this case and remind all staff and advisers of the procedures that must be followed to protect the integrity of official statistics.

I am copying this letter to the recipients of yours and to Hugh Taylor at the Department of Health.

Yours sincerely

Jeremy Heywood

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