November 23, 2007 / 9:44 AM / 12 years ago

PM defends record after lost data scandal

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Gordon Brown defended his record on Friday after an opinion poll showed public confidence in the government’s competence had slumped in the wake of the lost data discs scandal.

Gordon Brown (R) listens as Trade and Alistair Darling (L) speaks during a press conference at the Vauxhall plant in Ellesmere Port, northern England, May 17, 2006. Brown defended his record on Friday after an opinion poll showed public confidence in the government's competence had slumped in the wake of the lost data discs scandal. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

The Prime Minister hit back after a Populus poll for The Times showed the share of voters who trusted him and Chancellor Alistair Darling to handle the economy had fallen from 61 percent to just 28 percent since September.

It came after the government admitted computer discs containing details on 25 million people were lost in the post by the tax authority, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

The poll, taken on Wednesday night, showed almost three-quarters of voters believed the scandal of missing discs had hit their confidence in the government’s ability to handle confidential data.

A further 64 per cent said it called in question “the basic competence of the government”.

Brown defended his government’s record, saying he had a good record dealing with crises such as floods, terrorism and foot and mouth.

Asked by reporters in Uganda, where he is attending a Commonwealth summit, if he was “rattled” by the polls, he replied: “I feel I’m getting on with the job.

“The test is how a government deals with some of these crises that you cannot avert, but you’ve got to deal with, and I believe people will look at what we’ve done,” he said.

“And they will see that we are dealing with these problems as best we can in a way that is competent and a way that shows we can steer a course of stability in difficult times.”

The missing discs, containing information such as people’s bank details, were sent by internal mail and were not encrypted.

An investigation has been launched and the senior civil servant who headed the tax collection office has resigned over the affair, the largest data lapse in British history. Conservative Party MPs say blame for the scandal goes higher than the 23 year-old junior civil servant so far blamed by the government for violating security rules by putting the discs in the post.

Police are continuing their search for the discs in the tax offices in Newcastle.

A majority of the 1,025 voters surveyed also said they were pessimistic about the economic outlook in the wake of a barrage of bad news including falling house prices and the Northern Rock credit crisis.

Additional reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Peter Graff

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