Taxpayers’ Alliance caught misrepresenting stats to justify local cuts


3:34 pm - January 20th 2011

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contribution by Tim Fenton

Secure in his non-job at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), the smug Chris Daniel has joined the right-wing chorus of those demonising local authorities and their spending.

Daniel’s article, filled with needlessly pejorative terms and phrases, such as “Councils … gorging on taxpayers’ money” … “unsustainable growth”, “misspending”, and “bloated”, will be music to cheerleaders for the TPA and others who take its propaganda on trust.

But let’s have a look at their main claim shall we?


TPA “Report” – shame about the grammar

Sadly, Daniel’s clear inference – that local Government has been not only growing in recent years, but growing unsustainably – does not survive the most cursory of factual examinations.

His use of a graph showing “Public Sector Employment” is especially disingenuous: this includes far more than local Government.

Of the rise in that headcount from 1998 to 2005, almost 600,000 (out of around 700,000) was down to the NHS, Education and Police (below).


Data source: ONS

And the sharp increase in headcount in late 2008, as the ONS helpfully tells, was caused by the classification of employees at Lloyds Banking Group and RBS as public sector (below).

This also from the ONS

In fact, public sector headcount has (bank bailouts excepted) been falling since 2005, and, as previously noted, most of the rise in the preceding seven years reflected manifesto commitments by the Blair Government.

Local Government headcount did not significantly change.

So that’s another TPA missive undermined by dodgy figures. No change there, then.

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Reader comments


Tim,

I see what you did there.

Daniel’s statement: The public sector grew by over 0.9 million between 1997 and 2010, a staggering 17 per cent, so it would be irresponsible to suggest that there will not be job losses, there has to be.

Note that this statistic is explicitly stated to be for the public sector as a whole (probably including the bankers mysteriously included since government does not actually have any control over their terms and contracts). There is nothing about local government there.

Your comment: Sadly, Daniel’s clear inference – that local Government has been not only growing in recent years, but growing unsustainably – does not survive the most cursory of factual examinations.

Well the problem is that is not the inference of what Daniel says, which is rather the fact that the public sector has grown by 17% (which you don’t challenge) means that some jobs will have to go. He does not state that local government has grown – rather he states (if you read the original article) that it is currently wasteful. Whether you agree or disagree with this is up to you, but I doubt this would stand up as a case of (to steal Sunny’s (?) headline) ‘misrepresenting stats’.

Watchman, you’re not paying attention. The title of the TPA article began “Councils must … “. They were talking about councils. The article was not about the wider public sector.

The graph shown was used in the context of councils (am I getting through here?).

Tims posts an article criticising the TPAs disingenuous elision of the distinction between “public sector” and “local government”. Watchman accuses Tim of disingenuously eliding the distinction between “public sector” and “local government”. You couldn’t make it up…

Did you bother to read the source article?

4. Mike Killingworth

[1] Watchman, what can a claim that local government is “currently” wasteful mean? Either that it’s always been wasteful or that there was a Golden Age in the past when it wasn’t wasteful at all. A little acquaintance with English history will reveal that people – that is, the people who had to pay for it – have always seen local government as wasteful, whether it was the Victorian Vestries, the Speenhamland System of the 18th century or the Poor Law in the time of Good Queen Bess.

In fact of course people like the TPA think that it’s always been “wasteful”. In their ideal world they would apply the same principle as Edward Stanley did when he was Chief Secretary for Ireland in the Whig Government of the 1830s: that under no circumstances, not even mass starvation of elderly widows and children, should the State put its hand in its pocket until it was absolutely satisfied that every penny of private charity had been applied to the needs of those in distress.

Stanley of course went on to lead the Tory Party for over twenty years.

While in your ideal world we would be supplicants to whatever handouts the state chose to give us once it had confiscated all we had?

Or would that be an exaggeration as well??

6. Luis Enrqiue

no quibble substance of post – just noting juxtaposition of “non-job” “smug” and “needlessly pejorative”. I suppose you could say you are being pejorative with good reason.

@6, my assessment is based on my perception of the level of usefulness of the TPA and its staff, and the photo of Chris Daniel used on their site.

I’m also persuaded that one should not show reticence when putting the boot into the TPA.

In a growing and aging population one would expect to see some growth in the headcount for police, public administration, education and especially health. Just looking at the headcount would not tell much. We would be highly unlikely to see a growth of immigrants in the child bearing age group and not see more people employed in education. Moreover, an aging population means more pensioners and more people employed in health and administering pensions. To see if the growth in the headline numbers was unsustainable one would need to look in more detail at ratios before and after.

Tim Fenton:

I think your article was not only almost as propagandist as the TPA’s but also a missed opportunity. The TPA article is not so much misrepresenting statistics as bundling together (a) the claim that local government is “gorging” itself on increased charges and fees and (b) the claim that public sector employment has soared. Watchman @1 does have a point. Anyway, the TPA’s piece is poorly structured.

What I would have liked to see in your rebuttal is a more detailed challenge to (a) – given that local government is arguably the most efficient part of the public sector – and, in the case of (b), more analysis of your third very interesting graph.

most of the rise in the preceding seven years reflected manifesto commitments by the Blair Government.

Ahhh

So that was why it was necessary…….I feel so much better now.

And here was me thinking it was all just a waste of money!!!!!

@6 @7 Interesting to note that hypocrisy is now an acceptable part of Leftist / statist analyses ‘for the greater good’.

The only person gorging is Daniel on corporate wingnut welfare. The rich spend billions employing their little butlers to serve their interests.

Just wish they would be honest about it and stop predending they care for the little people. They don’t.

13. Cynical/Realist?

Christ, the trolls are really active today no?

Ok, so Tim did use prejorative terms himself too. Kettle, pot, black on him there.

But the TPA was clearly fudging together stats to fit them into the context they wanted. Its clear case of misrepresenting stats. If they have a strong case for saying local government is weak and ineffective, or just simply ripe for the cutting give it us. Playing with stats and semantics is a weak way of building a case.

Following from @13: If this is the best they can do, it’s pretty poor. Are they stupid or complacent?

15. George McLean

A side point, but does anyone know what is happening with the Alternative Taxpayers’ Alliance? Their website seems not to have moved since October 2010.

16. George McLean

Me @ 61.

Sorry – I meant “The Other TPA”. Anyone know?

Suspect there are some genuine misunderstandings here ? The problem is not what councils or the public sector in general spend but the justifying criteria that underpins their spending priorities,

Put another way, I would prioritise refuse collection above keeping public toilets, theatres, parks and gardens etc open. Many would quite understandably disagree with me but that’s where resource management and democracy clash.

We should be questioning Councils underpinning criteria for their prioritised cuts.

Tim F,

I didn’t really pay the headline much attention, I’m afraid – a habit drawn from too much time round here (note that I was careful not to associate you with the headline on the post…) and from being fully aware that title and content is often not matched in any piece of writing. However, I see nothing in the title that suggests this is a ‘misrepresentation’ (sorry – title again), since the title nowhere states the numbers employed in local government have increased. The association between the numbers employed and local government may be inferred, but you are the one who has made the inferrence. It is a further inferrence that the original author intended you to make this, which may be reasonable but is not supported by the text (note that the paragraph you cite comes after a paragraph noting that some councils are apparently shifting the cuts onto front line staff, and could equally well be taken as a justification for the need for job cuts in the public sector as a whole).

Incidentally, I agree with you about the perjorative statements – but this should indicate that it is a political puff-piece not a deep analysis. It is also why I tend to take the TPA with a pinch of salt – they should be able to make the same point with the evidence and without the judgement (bascially to academic standards if you like) and would be much more effective. But I felt your response was disingenious – a better use of the resources would be to simply present the figures used by the TPA, and to note that therefore there was not actually much increase in local employment (albeit the increase including education was in the hundreds of thousands still) so any argument that council payrolls needed to be cut was wrong. Why you had to make a tenuous connection that may or may not have been intended by the original author the centre piece of your argument escapes me – it actually takes away from the potential force of your argument.

19. john in cheshire

I get the impression that the socialists are once again trying to re-write history.

So in other words, the TPA thinks large growth in public sector employment suggests cuts should be made in a specific area – local government – and you don’t. You haven’t actually challenged their figures. You just disagree, pointing out most of the growth has been in other areas.

I see this again and again with attacks on the TPA. Some expert (or, more commonly, non-expert) draws a different conclusion from the TaxPayers’ Alliance and then this is hailed as proof the TPA are a bunch of liars.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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