Treasury under fire over VAT data

Tory Finance spokesman David Lidington accused the government department of failing to act in a swift-enough fashion to allow the Office of National Statistics to extract the data from Customs’ computers and slash red tape.

He spoke out after being told by ONS executive director John Pullinger that a feasibility study two years ago showed it was possible to extract data directly from VAT sources – confirmed by a pilot study a year later.

Pullinger said they now ‘plan’ to go further by preparing inputs for the Index of Production and Index of Services in parallel with information from business surveys.

But earlier he said VAT sources were ‘far from ideal’, partly because they are quarterly and partly because some businesses are exempt.

But Lidington said the excuse was ‘shamefaced’ in view of the damage to the competitiveness of British businesses due to the cost of filling in survey returns. He added: ‘What is regrettable is that the government is proceeding at such a leisurely pace towards reform.’

‘I welcome the fact that ONS is looking at change but I would have hoped for evidence that ministers are making this a priority.’

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