Business Minister refuses to retract Scottish Government tweet criticised by watchdog

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Business Minister Jamie Hepburn has refused to retract a Scottish Government tweet that was criticised by a statistics watchdog.

On November 12, the Scottish Government's economy Twitter account published a post claiming youth unemployment fell by 0.3% in the past year.

Business Minister Jamie Hepburn has refused to retract a Scottish Government tweet that was criticised by a statistics watchdog. Picture: JPIMEDIA

Business Minister Jamie Hepburn has refused to retract a Scottish Government tweet that was criticised by a statistics watchdog. Picture: JPIMEDIA

The statistic featured in a Labour Force Survey (LFS) by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It uses a much smaller sample than the Annual Population Survey (APS) estimates, which are deemed to be more reliable by the UK Statistics Authority.

According to the APS, youth unemployment actually went up by 0.8%.

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Scottish Tory MSP Liam Kerr asked if the minister would retract the tweet, which is still available on the Government-run account.

Replying, Mr Hepburn said "no", before adding: "The Scottish Government's statement on youth unemployment are based on official statistics routinely published by the Office for National Statistics.

"Both the Scottish and UK Governments regularly refer to results from the ONS Labour Force Survey as it is the most frequently available source of market data.

"Scottish Government statisticians will continue to work with the ONS to discuss the handling of future publications of youth unemployment statistics and use of the Labour Force Survey.

"It's crucial that decisions on the use of statistics are taken by professional statisticians so it is a decision of Scotland's chief statistician to reflect on comments made."

Mr Kerr said: "The issue here is that the Scottish Government selectively cherry picked a misleading number based on far too low a sample size to be reliable.

"A number of journalists said that, Fraser of Allander said that, the Statistics Authority said that.

"Is the SNP Government so arrogant it can't even hold it's hands up and admit it made a mistake?"

The Business Minister pointed out the UK Government also uses the statistics.

He asked Mr Kerr if the UK Government would stop using ONS releases.

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Mr Hepburn said: "If Mr Kerr doesn't want the Scottish Government to use these statistics then I look forward to the same standard being held up by his party when they routinely use the

Labour Force statistics, selectively as well, to do down the labour market as they do on a regular basis."

He said he has witnessed Tory politicians Alister Jack, David Mundell and Murdo Fraser "selectively" use ONS stats.

Mr Hepburn added: "If he doesn't want us to use them, then I hope he won't be using them in future as well."

At the time of the tweet, the UK Statistics Authority said: "Data from the LFS at this level of detail are not considered reliable and are not classed as national statistics.

"The APS is the more reliable data source for estimates of youth unemployment, due to its larger sample size, particularly when considering a breakdown by age and country within the UK.

"It would be helpful to make this clear both in the summary published by the Scottish Government and any related use of the estimates, including on social media."