“Inbound and outbound flows (across all UK ports) were close to normal, at 95% outbound and 96% inbound, in spite of the impact of Covid lockdowns on trade.”

The Cabinet Office, Rebuttal to an article in the Observer

March 6, 2021

Facts

In response to a story in the Observer on February 6th 2021 that cited a survey by the Road Haulage Association (RHA) showing export volumes had dropped by a staggering 68% in January through British ports and the Channel Tunnel, the Cabinet Office issued a point by point rebuttal.

They said: “Inbound and outbound flows (across all UK ports) were close to normal, at 95% outbound and 96% inbound, in spite of the impact of Covid lockdowns on trade.”

This presentation was challenged by Ed Humpherson, director general for regulation at the Statistics Authority,  the statutory independent regulator which ensures that statistics are published and disseminated for the public good. He wrote to Richard Laux, chief statistician at the Cabinet Office, expressing concerns at the way the department had used data to rebut the RHA’s information. 

The letter said the Cabinet Office’s strong rebuttal contained “claims based on unpublished data, and as such these figures cannot be verified. It is our expectation that any data used publicly by government should be published in an accessible form, with appropriate explanations of context and sources.”

The Cabinet Office responded: 

“We have today published an information note that provides context and further detail about the issues set out in the news release. And colleagues in the Border and Protocol Delivery Group are considering the feasibility of publishing an official statistical release later in the year should there be a public requirement for this information.

As you know I agree with your expectation that “any data used publicly by Government should be published in an accessible form, with appropriate explanations of context and sources”. I will take steps to raise the profile of this issue across the Department, with a view to minimising the likelihood of unpublished statistics being used publicly, and also to explore the scope to publish more statistics where there is a user need.”

In short, the Cabinet Office promised to do better in future.

Verdict

The claims made by the Cabinet Office were unsubstantiated and criticised by a senior representative of the Statistics Authority.

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