Friday 23 January 2009

Lies, damned lies and council statistics

For years, governments and councils have used and manipulated statistics to suit their needs. One of the best examples of this practice is the index used to measure inflation. Sometimes politicians use the Retail Price Index (RPI) and at other times its the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Two weeks ago, Barnet council leader Mike Freer announced that this year’s increase in council tax would be 2.81%. He proudly announced that this was lower than the rate of inflation. But is it?

Last year, in the booklet sent to all households, Freer said: “Barnet Council is committed to delivering high-quality, value for money services without imposing excessive Council Tax increases. Although no authority received a lower increase in grant from central government we have again restricted Council Tax increase to below the Retail Price Index rate of inflation.”

So for Barnet, Mike relies on the RPI index. But latest figures show that the RPI inflation figure is currently 0.9%, with many economists expecting it to fall further in the months ahead. As things stand, the proposed council tax increase is therefore more than three times the rate of inflation!

Freer’s financial reputation, already damaged by the Icelandic banking fiasco, is now in tatters.

He needs to go back to the drawing board and find ways to make significant budget savings to reduce costs and expenditure so that the headline rate can be cut by a further 2%.

If he fails, then Cllr Freer's claim to have delivered a below inflation increase will be just another damned lie.

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