Economists set to clash at Holyrood over '˜Crap' GERS figures

Finance Secretary Derek McKay ahead of the most recent GERS figures. Picture: Lisa Ferguson/TSPLFinance Secretary Derek McKay ahead of the most recent GERS figures. Picture: Lisa Ferguson/TSPL
Finance Secretary Derek McKay ahead of the most recent GERS figures. Picture: Lisa Ferguson/TSPL
Economists are to face off over Scottish Government statistics described as 'crap' by one academic.

Professor Richard Murphy, director of Tax Research UK, argued last month that the annual Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (Gers) statistics are “completely rubbish approximations”.

His comments have been described as “appalling” by fellow economist Margaret Cuthbert.

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Both are due to give evidence to Holyrood’s Economy Committee on Tuesday as MSPs launch an inquiry into Scotland’s economic data.

The publication of the Gers statistics last month reignited debate about the state of the Scottish economy and how it would fare under independence.

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In his submission to the inquiry, Mr Murphy said he believed the data “has limited accuracy or reliability at best and with regard to the Scottish deficit is potentially misleading and inaccurate”.

He added that Gers “has limited usefulness as a result; is not worth analysing in great detail because by design the information it presents does not make sense; does not encourage effective scrutiny and needs to be redesigned if it is to be fit for purpose.”

He called for greater debate on the data needed for Scotland and how it should be used and funded.

“Resource must be allocated to collecting Scottish data or the whole process of devolution is undermined: no government can be asked to make decision on the basis of inadequate information,” he said.

However in her submission to the inquiry, statistician Ms Cuthbert said describing Gers as “crap” was “appalling and verging on ignorant”, arguing the data was improving.

“The original quality of the data was comprehensively examined line by line in 1977 and thereafter statisticians in the Scottish Government have made considerable efforts with UK departments to work with them and obtain reliable estimates for Scotland,” she said.

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However she acknowledged that it was time to reassess the data that the Scottish Parliament requires as more powers are devolved to Scotland, and called for a strong central statistics unit.

She criticised non-departmental public bodies for publishing figures “where it is nigh on impossible to find out how the data given are derived” and government departments for producing statistics “where it is difficult to understand what the statistics actually mean”.

Ms Cuthbert also said that frontline economic publications “have tended to become glossies showing how well the government is doing” and that statistics “do not appear to be given due importance when the policy makers set to and devise their policies”.