There’s a long and varied history behind the Office of National Statistics. It was borne from the merging of two older government bureaus (the CSO and the OPCS) under the last Tory government, and just last year was placed under the governance of the newly formed UK Statistics Authority.
Aside from its historical vicissitudes, the ONS’s purpose is to produce independent information to improve understanding of the UK’s economy and society. It exists as an independent entity, but remains accountable to the government.
This independence doesn’t seem good enough for Labour minister Phil Woolas who today criticised as the ONS for publishing statistics that revealed one in nine UK residents was born abroad. These figures come hot on the heels of last month’s equally dizzying revelation by the ONS that the number of foreign workers in the UK increased by 175,000 to 2.4 million last year while the number of British workers fell by 234,000 to 27 million.
Attempting to undermine an independent agency for publishing impartial figures that hit home as inconvenient truths, attempting to prevent the airing of these natural checks and balances, and above all issuing subsequent alleged threats that the ONS is entering “shark-infested waters” is an utterly disgraceful and reprehensible line to follow from a privileged ministerial position.
As the sulking bully takes a final indiscriminate pop at a weak bystander as he is shooed from the playground, so we are witnessing the final desperate spasms of a government in the final throes of its political existence.