Who's Telling Truth about Jobs?; Scots Industry Minister Gus Macdonald 'S Statistics Are Open to Question

By Collier, Andrew | Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), March 9, 1999 | Go to article overview

Who's Telling Truth about Jobs?; Scots Industry Minister Gus Macdonald 'S Statistics Are Open to Question


Collier, Andrew, Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)


SCOTS industry minister Gus Macdonald flashed a political petted lip when one of his own departments produced figures showing unemployment rising in Scotland while falling in the the rest of the UK.

He lodged two official complaints with the Office of National Statistics, claiming the data was misrepresentative.

Yet, yesterday, the Scottish Office admitted that many of the new jobs trumpeted by Mr Macdonald `s party were not official - in fact, they had been compiled from company reports and reading newspapers.

The Minister stood accused by experts of "kicking the dog" by attacking the ONS for the way it compiled figures.

But Brian Hogwood, Professor of Politics at the University of Strathclyde, insists that the way we calculate unemployment in Scotland is more accurate than anywhere else.

Macdonald is furious because ONS figures show unemployment rising by 9000 in the last year while, over the UK as a whole, it fell by 103,000.

Macdonald dismissed them as inaccurate because they were based on 6500 households in Scotland and that, he insists, was too small a sample.

But Mr Hogwood said: "It's true that the more you split a sample down, then the less reliable the result is going to be.

"There is no reason why Scotland should have more problems in this regard than any other region of the UK, which is also broken down into these sub-samples.

"There is no particular reason to believe that the Scottish part of the sample has gone wobbly.

"The government has collectively endorsed these figures and feels that, at a UK level, they are more reliable than the old claimant count."

He also questioned the timing of Macdonald's sudden outburst - the start of one of the fiercest election campaigns Scotland is ever likely to see.

Interestingly, he has made them only a week after the ONS was forced to apologise for giving the government faulty earnings figures.

"You never know", added Hogwood. "It may be the case that - if you'll excuse the analogy - he's decided to kick a dog when it's already down."

Mr Macdonald's real problem at the moment is that, with the Scottish parliament elections only weeks away and the SNP breathing hard down their necks, Labour dare not risk appearing complacent on the jobs front.

Matters are often confused even more by the fact that the Scottish office uses a so- called "headline figure" - which we're always led to believe is

official - to claim that new jobs are being created north of the border to replace losses.

In fact, these figures aren't official at all.

Civil servants admitted yesterday that they are compiled, not from government forecasts, but from company announcements and newspaper cuttings.

These projected jobs can't be included in current official employment statistics - ministers often trumpet the fact that the work is coming when new projects are announced, but the posts are not recorded as existing until people are actually taken on and paid real salaries.

This technique allows the government to win juicy headlines suggesting that Scotland is suddenly getting new jobs, but the truth is that the actual work could take years to arrive.

Tony Blair last week told the Scottish Labour Party conference that 20,000 new jobs are in the pipeline. …

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