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New inquiry: Covid-19 – Data transparency and accountability

22 September 2020

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has launched a new inquiry into data transparency and accountability in Covid-19 policy.

The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated the critical role that data plays in informing policy, developing strategy and understanding performance. Measures designed to contain the spread of infection, including localised lockdowns and region-specific self-isolation for people entering the UK, require accurate and up-to-date data to be effective.

In this new inquiry, the Committee will investigate how well the Government has collected and utilised data during the Covid-19 pandemic. It will investigate if how data has informed decision making and if it was of sufficient quality to enable effective policy making.

The inquiry will also examine how well understood published Covid-19 data is by those scrutinising Government policy, including parliamentarians, journalists and the wider public, and what more can be done to improve understanding.

The National Statistician, Sir Ian Diamond, and Ed Humpherson, Director General for Regulation in the Office for Statistics regulation gave evidence to the Committee on Tuesday 22 September.

Chair's comments

Committee Chair, William Wragg MP said:

“In the effort to fight the spread of Covid-19 and attempt to mitigate its impact on the economy and wider society, the Government is aiming to deliver policies that provide a delicate balance between reducing infection spread and allowing the economy to open up. This includes a highly localised and reactive approach to implementing restrictions in the regions, and in setting self-isolation guidance for those entering the UK.

“For such policies to be successful they have to be based on highly accurate and up-to-date data, not just in deciding areas of critical concern, but also in understanding how well they are working. We have launched this inquiry to understand how well the Government has used data to inform its decisions. Fundamentally, is it using the right data to ask the right questions?”

Send us your views

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee wants to hear your views. It welcomes submissions from anyone with answers to the questions in the terms of reference.

Terms of reference

The Committee invites evidence on the following issues:

  1. Did the Government have good enough data to make decisions in response to Covid-19, and how quickly was the Government able to gather new data?
  2. Was data for decision making sufficiently joined up across Departments?
  3. Was relevant data disseminated to key decision makers in: Central and local Government; other public services (like schools); businesses; and interested members of the public?
  4. Were key decisions (such as the “lock downs”) underpinned by good data and was data-led decision making timely, clear and transparently presented to the public?
  5. Was data shared across the devolved administrations to enable mutually beneficial decision making?
  6. Is there sufficient understanding of statistics by the public to understand the detailed information that is being regularly published during the pandemic. Equally, is there enough understanding among journalists and parliamentarians to enable reasonable presentation and interpretation of data for the public; and informed questions to be asked of the Government? What could be done to improve understanding and who could take responsibility for this?
  7. How will the change in responsibility for government data impact future decision making?

Further information