Economic Statistics revisions and ‘burying bad news’

We were highly puzzled by some recent newspaper stories that seem to accuse Scottish Ministers of ‘burying bad news’ after revised data on Scotland’s economy was published last week.

We think this is unfair.

So what is the story?

Newly revised data on the size of Scotland’s economy was published last week as part of the Scottish Government’s Quarterly National Accounts publication covering the 3rd quarter of 2019. This is a National Statistics publication pre-announced weeks in advance. It is available here. There was an accompanying news release to the publication here.

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You can’t really bury bad news if you publish it on your website as part of a regular statistical publication.

In the underlying statistical tables, the details show a downward revision in the size of Scotland’s extra-regio accounts across the entire series, following revised data being published for the UK as a whole in the Autumn, and regional statistics published in December, both by the ONS. These revisions are set out in the statistical publication.

To be clear. Revisions are part and parcel of sound economic statistics. They happen all the time, and will sometimes be positive and sometimes be negative.

It is unreasonable to expect Ministers to comment on each and every statistical revision that takes place over the course of a year.

Suggesting that the statistics have been buried to hide questions about Scotland’s fiscal deficit is simply bizarre. There will of course be an important debate to be had about Scotland’s relative fiscal position, but this should only take place when all revisions – not just to GDP but the underlying public finances – are published in the annual GERS report in the summer. It will be at that point the underlying strength of Scotland’s fiscal position can be assessed, including if it has been revised down, once all the updated data is available.

There might be legitimate technical complaints about the ordering of material on the government website and where and when things are published. But the information is there – and accessible with a modest degree of effort.

There are important debates to be had about the performance of the Scottish economy. But this isn’t one of them.

Authors

The Fraser of Allander Institute (FAI) is a leading economy research institute based in the Department of Economics at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.

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