UK ministers lose early access to ONS data after suspicious market moves

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The Office for National Statistics will stop giving UK ministers and government officials early access to its economic data releases because it undermines public trust.

The early data releases have also been linked with suspicious market moves.

The ONS has previously allowed government ministers and officials access to data 24-hours earlier than the public, but national statistician John Pullinger confirmed in a letter released on Thursday that this practice will end on 1 July.

The ONS tightened controls in March after Pullinger raised concerns with the UK Statistic Authority that access to early data releases was becoming increasingly lax.

However, Pullinger says in his letter, which is addressed to UK Statistics Authority chair David Norgrove, that those changes were not successfully dealing with the risks the review sought to mitigate.

“Should there be a need for exceptional pre-release access to particular individuals for a specific release this would be fully transparent,” Pullinger says.

An academic study released in March revealed that futures on UK government bonds inexplicably moved sharply in the 24 hours leading up to economic data releases, suggesting some traders knew the figures in advance.

Pullinger’s letter did not mention concerns about insider trading in his letter confirming the change instead stating he was worried about “damage to trust in official statistics”.

Following the academic study, Andrew Tyrie, then chairman of the Treasury select committee, wrote to FCA chief executive Andrew Bailey calling for an investigation into potential insider trading based on leaks from the early data releases.

An FCA spokeswoman says the regulator’s reply to Tyrie is on hold until the Treasury select committee appoints a new chairman.

“However, robust controls by firms and agencies around flows of information deliver better outcomes for market participants, improve trust in the financial services industry as a fair place to do business and ensure a clean market place,” she says.