Downing Street intervened in the row over a leaked cabinet document, which appeared to show government productivity has collapsed since Labour came to power as well as leaked cabinet minutes asked for the ONS to change the way the figures are compiled so Labour can present a more ‘credible story’ in the campaign leading up to the next general election.
In 2002, opposition parties accused the ONS of using ‘Enron-style’accounting, prompting an investigation by the Statistics Commission.
Today, Tony Blair’s official spokesman said there were problems with the statistics because taking on more nurses to look after patients counted as a cut in productivity since there would seem to be more nurses per patient.
The same applied to having more teachers per pupil and ‘was clearly a nonsense’, he said, when in fact there was an increase in the quality of care in hospitals and in the skills and experience available to pupils.
Undaunted Tory shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin asked ONS chief Len Cook and cabinet secretary Sir Andrew Turnbull to ensure ONS methodology is not influenced by electoral considerations and propriety governs the presentation of government information.
Letwin said: ‘There is now clear evidence that both the government’s ability to deliver public service improvement and the overall productivity of the economy are being compromised by reducing public sector productivity.’
The saga echoed the Ministry of Defence dilemma in 2002 when scrapping Harrier jump jets earlier than planned, far from saving money, actually represented increased expenditure the year it was done because the annual accounts had to include provision for writing off the aircraft.
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