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Pre-release access

Statement of Compliance 

Introduction

This statement sets out the Higher Education Statistics Agency's (HESA) operational arrangements for giving Ministers and their officials pre-release access to official statistics once they have attained their final form prior to publication.

These arrangements are designed to ensure that such access is justified, limited, controlled and publicised and complies with statutory requirements. Their purpose is to maintain public confidence in the integrity of official statistics while allowing Ministers to account immediately for the implications of statistics covering policy areas for which they are democratically responsible.

This statement is published in conformance with the Pre-release Access to Official Statistics Orders across the United Kingdom made under Section 11 of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007.

Authority

These arrangements have been drawn-up in consultation with the Head of Profession for Statistics at the Department for Education.

General Principle

HESA operates under the general principle that pre-release access to official statistics must be:

  • Limited to the minimum number of persons deemed necessary to allow Ministers and senior policy officials to either:
    • Provide responses to questions, or make statements about those statistics at, or shortly after, their time of publication
    • Take action before, at, or shortly after the time of publication.
  • Allowed only in circumstances where the public benefit likely to result from such access outweighs the detriment to public trust in official statistics likely to result from so doing.

Grant of advance access

The arrangements set out in this statement are confined to those persons who meet the eligibility criteria set out in Annex A(i). Recipients can, in addition, share their access with their administrative support staff even though those staff may not directly engage with the statistics in question.

Their advance access is limited to statistics which meet the eligibility criteria set out in Annex A(ii), and which are in their final form prior to being published for the first time.

Documentation and Publication

In the interests of openness and transparency, HESA maintains a public record on its website listing the titles of all the statistical releases to which these arrangements apply, as well as the job titles of all those persons to whom pre-release access has been granted, and the organisations to which they belong.

The following links provide the lists of persons granted pre-release access to each Official Statistics release:

The justification for giving advance access to each listed recipient is available on request. 

Period of access

In line with legislation, pre-release access to HESA's official statistics is restricted to a maximum period before public release which depends upon the UK country covered by the statistics as follows:

  • England, Northern Ireland statistics - 24 hours
  • Scotland and Wales statistics - 5 working days
  • UK-wide statistics - 24 hours.

Conditions of access

Those persons who are given access to HESA's official statistics ahead of their release must keep the statistics secure and under embargo, and they must abide by certain conditions of access. They must avoid:

  • Disclosing the statistics or any part of a publication containing those statistics
  • Providing any indication of the size or direction of any trend revealed by the statistics
  • Using such access for personal gain, or taking any action for political advantage
  • Exploiting such access to change or compromise the content, presentation, or timing of publication of official statistics.

Special circumstances

Aside from the circumstances described above, the Head of Profession may also allow access to statistics ahead of their release to a limited number of persons in a limited number of special circumstances. For example:

  • Journalists may be given access to complex or compendia releases in order to give them time to absorb and understand the significance of a given release
  • Access may be given to the compilers of complementary reports due to be published at the same time as, or shortly after the statistics so that they can incorporate the latest available figures.

In both of the above cases, pre-release access would be restricted to 24 hours before publication.

Breach of these conditions

In the event of a breach of the principles and rules set out in the legislation and described in this Statement, HESA will notify the UK Statistics Authority's Chief Executive (the National Statistician) as well as the Authority's Head of Assessment; take action to prevent a recurrence; and provide the Authority with a written explanation. The National Statistician may decide to conduct an inquiry on behalf of the Authority, the results of which will be posted on the Authority's website.

Sanctions against non-compliance

HESA may, for a period, withdraw pre-release access from any person judged to have breached the conditions of their access.

In addition, a heavier sanction can be imposed by the UK Statistics Authority which has a statutory duty to assess the extent to which any organisation's ‘National Statistics' comply with the Pre-release Access to Official Statistics Orders and with the associated obligations set out in this Statement.  The Authority can, for instance, challenge an organisation where it considers that pre-release access is not justified or where an organisation is failing to conform with these arrangements. It can also withdraw, or threaten to withdraw, ‘National Statistics' designation from the statistics in question.

Note:

(a) Pre-release access

In the context described above, the phrase 'pre-release access' covers privileged access to statistical releases in their final form prior to being placed in the public domain. It does not cover pre-release access available to:

  • Those staff intimately engaged in the process of producing and disseminating the statistics in question (including those responsible for overseeing this process)
  • Those persons requested to quality assure the statistics before their public release.

Annex A

Criteria for granting pre-release access

(i) - Categories of persons within government to whom HESA would normally grant pre-release access to its statistical releases:

  • Those Ministers who have policy or operational responsibility for a particular subject-matter covered by a statistical release; who are accountable to Parliament and the electorate for their stewardship of that policy; and who may need to respond to questions about the statistics, or take appropriate action, at the time of release of those statistics.
  • Those Chief Executives who have operational responsibility for a particular activity covered by a release, and who are accountable for their stewardship of that activity to Ministers, and through them to Parliament; and who are in a similar position to those Ministers described above.
  • The top Departmental or Agency officials with ultimate responsibility for formulating, developing, maintaining, monitoring or implementing that policy.
  • Other Departmental or Agency officials who have been assigned the specific responsibility to brief Ministers or Chief Executives about the statistics in question (e.g. Special Advisers, Policy Advisers, Analysts).
  • Departmental Press Officers responsible for managing Ministers' interface with the media with respect to the policy or statistics in question.

(plus any ancillary staff who support the above)

(ii) - Categories of statistical release to which HESA would normally grant pre-release access:

  • Releases which incorporate statistics which are used to monitor or measure the government's performance (either generally, or against formal targets).
  • Releases which have the potential to impinge substantially on the formulation, implementation, or monitoring of government policy.
  • Releases which have the potential to inform, or impact on, decisions about the allocation of public funds.
  • Releases which have, demonstrably and historically, had a high public profile (i.e. regularly generate column inches in the print media or regularly attract the attention of the broadcast media) and on which Ministers or Chief Executives with responsibility for the subject-matter might reasonably be expected to comment at the time of release.

(iii) - Categories of release to which pre-release would not normally be granted by HESA

  • Releases which only incorporate further manifestations of statistics which have previously been released in either summary or aggregate form (e.g. follow-on releases which merely provide additional disaggregates of previously published aggregates) unless any of the criteria in section (ii) above apply in some force.
  • Experimental statistics (except where those statistics come under any of the categories described in Section (ii) above).