A battle with Government to protect Statistics Jersey’s independence has led to the departure of the island’s most experienced statistician after 20 years of service, Express has learned.
Chief Statistician Dr Duncan Gibaut, who has led the unit responsible for key reports on matters ranging from population to the economy since 2007, was put on gardening leave in November last year.
The decision came after Dr Gibaut and the Statistics Users Group (SUG) – the independent panel responsible for overseeing the work of Statistics Jersey - raised concerns about the unit’s independence.
This had been officially enshrined in law in 2018, but the unit remained funded by Government and its statisticians were therefore employed as civil servants.
Despite the new law granting them the authority to comment “on the quality and interpretation of any statistics produced by public authorities”, their employment status prevented them from doing so – a loophole sources described to Express as having been somewhat “weaponised.”
Further amendments were due to be made to the 2018 law to rectify this among other issues, while it had also been suggested to Government that the body should be grant-funded to ensure its independence.
But when the proposed changes were finally shared by policymakers, SUG remarked in their September 2020 meeting minutes that the plans had “evolved over the last 18 months into something completely different from originally envisaged.”
They said the Chief Statistician remained “too constrained, and should be able to explain SJ statistics and methodology to States Members and other public bodies”, adding that the suggested law changes also “did not have the appropriate consideration of UN principles and other international documents of best practice.”
Two months later, Dr Gibaut was placed on gardening leave – just months ahead of Statistics Jersey’s most important project of the decade: the 2021 census.
Since then, Ian Cope – a professional with more than two decades’ experience in the UK’s Office of National Statistics – has been appointed to temporarily fill Dr Gibaut’s role.
Operating under the new title of ‘Interim Director of Analytics and Statistics’, he will manage Statistics Jersey, as well as a new ‘analytics’ team in the newly-created Strategic Policy, Planning and Performance department. Express understands their work will focus on Public Health in the wake of covid.
Mr Cope started working in the role at the beginning of this month.
Responding to a request for comment from Express, a Government spokesperson said: "The States Employment Board has approved the establishment of a new post - Director of Statistics and Analytics. This role will have exactly the same independence as that of the Chief Statistician, but will operate at a more senior level in the public service. The post of Head of Statistics has also been established. This role will operate as Deputy Chief Statistician and so will have the same independence.
"These changes will provide, for the first time in Jersey, complete career ladders for local statisticians and analysts, from entry level right up to Director."
They continued: "Work has started to explore ways in which the Statistics and Census Law could be further enhanced and improved. The Statistics Users Group has provided valuable initial input, and will continue to do so over coming months as the drafting instructions are developed. It is hoped that amendments to the Law will be lodged later in 2021 for consideration by the States Assembly.
"Ministers have always respected the independence of Statistics Jersey and will support any required improvements.
"Statistics Jersey will remain independent, as currently provided for in the Law, and our official statisticians will continue to provide briefings directly to the Assembly, the media and other third parties, as they do currently."
They declined to comment on the circumstances of Dr Gibaut's departure, however, stating: "We do not comment on matters relating to individual staff."
Comments on this story express the views of the commentator only, not Bailiwick Publishing. We are unable to guarantee the accuracy of any of those comments.
Once your comment has been submitted, it won’t appear immediately. There is no need to submit it more than once. Comments are published at the discretion of Bailiwick Publishing, and will include your username.