Lies, damn lies and statistics!

Cities Outlook 2014 is out, the latest report from the Centre for Cities on how our cities are doing and how they compare with one another in terms of growth. And it’s causing quite a stir in Bristol, because it has the temerity to put Bristol at bottom of the pile when it comes to private sector jobs growth! How can this be? We are constantly being told by all those with power and influence in the city that Bristol is growing; one of the best economies outside of London; a great place to be! So how can it possibly score so badly when it comes to such a critical indicator? Could it be that things are not quite as rosy as some would have us believe?

Overall the report is quite positive, the economy is back on track, the UK is experiencing more sustained growth, cities are coming out of the depths of recession and beginning to grow again. However, the general figures and overall positive messages hide a complexity of diverse problems faced by very different cities.

The private sector jobs figures are interesting in many ways, not least because Bristol is at the bottom of the worst 10 cities for the period of growth between 2010 and 2012 – not sure that has happened before. We always pride ourselves on having a strong private sector, being less reliant on public sector jobs and for weathering the storm. The figures however tell a different story – we are worse than Hull, losing a staggering 13,900 jobs over a two year period (2010-2012).

So, one might expect a bit of a response from the council and the Local Enterprise Partnership, maybe suggesting how they are responding to the issue and what plans they have to turn it around? But no, what we got was the Mayor and others very quickly questioning the accuracy of the figures, making out that things are not that bad, that Bristol is thriving and performing well. That’s all very well but burying our head in the sands and ignoring the difficult stuff seems to be becoming a bit of a habit in Bristol. Sure we can point to all the positives, as the somewhat unbalanced article in the Bristol Evening Post does, but what are we going to do about the negatives? Pretend they don’t exist and hope it will all come good – I don’t think so, in my experience that just doesn’t work.

A better response would surely be to recognise that not everything is great, that there were significant job losses in Bristol and we have some ground to make up. Then you develop a plan to do that, to address the problems that are identified, over 13,000 job losses in a 2-year period is a big issue, even if things have got better since. There are people out there in Bristol who need help and support to get back into jobs; that need welfare support whilst out of work; and who need our political and business leaders to understand their plight. Pretending everything is fine and ignoring the problem really doesn’t help or fill people with much confidence.

Complacency could once more become our biggest problem!

5 thoughts on “Lies, damn lies and statistics!

  1. Hi Tessa – generally agree – but just to say I made a point of NOT questioning the figures! Here was my quote in answer:

    Mayor of Bristol said: “I have great respect for Centres for Cities and very much agree with their view that the English cities need more in the way of devolved powers and control over funding to ensure we make the most of our local strengths.

    “Bristol is currently the only major city in England outside the South East to make a positive contribution to the UK economy. The reported job losses up to 2012, whether accurate or not, only serves to stimulate my determination to create and attract more business in the Bristol city region and further strengthen our position as leader in a variety of sectors. We are currently performing well and the future is bright for the private sector, not least with the gathering pace within the Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone which is attracting national and international attention”


  2. Generally I’m not one for questioning statistics, (they will be same for all cities so it is possible to compare) but 13,900 jobs is a lot to lose in a two year period without it having a major impact on the overall employment rate. At 73% this is still one of the highest in the country. So where did these job loses come from? I don’t recall any very large scale failures in the private sector over this period.


    • Hi Robert, yes I always take stats with a pinch of salt, but equally I don’t generally just use the positive ones and ignore the difficult ones. The key point here is taking notice of Bristol’s problems as well as talking up its positive points.


      • True!

        However I have some sympathy here with the questioning of the figures. Looking at the NOMIS figures for the City of Bristol- which is not exactly the same figures as quoted in the study:

        In Employment
        Jul 2012 – Jun 2013 231,500 70.7%
        Jul 2011 – Jun 2012 228,500 70.6%
        Jul 2010 – Jun 2011 236,100 74.4%

        So within the city at least the decline in employment is 4,700 over the two year period and in the one year 2012 (using the year on year figures) an increase of 3,000. It is a bit difficult to understand the figure of 13,900 quoted in the study unless the part of the South Glos figures included are very bad.

        Given that this appears to be the only bad part of the report and there is some basis to question the figures I can understand why it is better to concentrate on the positive aspects.


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