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National accounts statistics need improvement

While the quality of the national accounts is adequate, the statistics have some shortcomings that may lead to fiscal decisions being made on erroneous grounds, according to a new audit by the Swedish National Audit Office.

Royal crown on bridge railing overlooking the water towards the Old Town in Stockholm.

Photo: Henrik Trygg

The national accounts contain statistics on which fiscal policy is based. Errors in the statistics risk leading the Government and the Riksdag to take decisions based on an erroneous assessment of the economy and the strength of public finances.

The audit shows that the quality of the national accounts is adequate enough to be used as a basis for well-informed fiscal policy decisions and that the statistics contain relevant information, but that there are some shortcomings that should be addressed.

The main shortcoming is that the difference between the national accounts’ preliminary and definitive outcomes is too great, which is a problem, as important elements of fiscal policy are based on the preliminary outcome. The audit also shows signs of a systematic underestimation of the level of GDP in the preliminary outcomes.

“The audit shows that the national accounts have systematically underestimated the strength of public finances in the economic upturns of the 21st century. Systematic errors in statistics risk leading to systematic errors in fiscal policies,” says Auditor General Helena Lindberg.

In addition, in the opinion of the Swedish NAO, the statistics are not sufficiently processed when they leave Statistics Sweden. The processing and dissemination of statistics currently involves several agencies, which increases the risk of delays, errors and duplication of work.

“Statistics Sweden supplies the statistics as ordered by the Government. The Swedish NAO’s conclusion is that the Government should ensure that Statistics Sweden delivers the data in a state that does not require major processing by other agencies,” says Tomas Forsfält, project leader for the audit.

The Swedish NAO also notes that Statistics Sweden needs to take more responsibility for the statistics collected by other actors.

In the autumn it came to light that there were errors in the statistics from the Labour Force Surveys, including the number of unemployed.

These errors do not change the overall conclusion of the Swedish NAO concerning the quality of the national accounts. The Labour Force Surveys are one of the many sources for the national accounts and the errors have therefore had a limited impact on GDP in constant prices.

The national accounts’ reporting of the sectors’ revenue and expenditure, which are in focus in the Swedish NAO’s audit, is based on GDP in current prices and is not at all affected by the errors in the Labour Force Surveys.

Recommendations

The Swedish NAO recommends that Statistics Sweden:

  • should regularly assess the reliability of the national accounts’ preliminary outcomes for central government tax revenues, and work to ensure that any deficiencies are remedied
  • should ensure that the national accounts’ preliminary outcomes for GDP do not contain systematic errors
  • to a greater extent inform users of the reliability of the national accounts’ preliminary outcomes.

The Swedish NAO recommends that the Government, in its governance, should ensure that distribution of the statistics from the national accounts is carried out directly from the agency responsible for statistics, which is Statistics Sweden.

Press contact: Olle Castelius, phone: +46 8-5171 40 04.

Presskontakt: , telefon: 08-5171 42 06.

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Updated: 20 December 2019

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