Holyrood has passed new laws curbing the number of statistics which ministers will get early access to – despite the Scottish Government opposing the Bill.
Currently, government ministers are given official statistics up to five days before they are published and can be seen by the public or other political parties.
But the Scottish Parliament’s Economy Committee brought forward legislation to change that – with committee convener Gordon Lindhurst saying it had been trying to make the change for several years.
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes questioned the need for the legislation, saying: “In the midst of the biggest economic crisis since the Second World War, is it not somewhat worrying that the biggest and most pressing issue the Economy Committee thinks is facing the Scottish economy is pre-release access to statistics?”
But Mr Lindhurst responded: “It is worrying that the Scottish Government considers it important to oppose so obvious a measure and spend this Parliament’s time on it in the course of this pandemic, rather than agreeing what is an obvious solution.”
MSPs passed Pre-release Access to Official Statistics (Scotland) Bill by 62 votes to zero, with 56 abstentions.
Mr Lindhurst said: “Statistics do matter, they don’t just describe the world, they help shape it.”
He said the Bill would end the practice of pre releasing some types of economic data to ministers, with this change being phased in.
This will apply to retail sales statistics and GDP data, with Mr Lindhurst saying that the UK equivalent data is not released early to the government there.
The Bill will also mean some data is only given to ministers a day ahead of publication, instead of up to five days as can happen at the moment.
Public finance minister Ivan McKee said the government was “disappointed this Parliament’s focus and energy has been on a Bill that aims to change our valuable, managed and well functioning processes”.
He added: “Data, statistics and evidence are at the heart of our policy decisions. We need to understand, explain and be transparent about why decisions have been made.
“High quality and relevant statistics, trusted professional statisticians and well informed politicians who understand the data are vitally important in allowing us to follow these principles.
“Faced with unprecedented challenges to physical and mental health, and to finances and our way of life, the importance of data, evidence and statistics has never been greater.”
The minister added: “Our position remains that we oppose further restrictions on pre-release access and we consider this Bill and unhelpful distraction.”