Tag: logic

Double parking

Mr Wilkes of the Brunel Centre seems to be jumping to conclusions about the effectiveness of dropping the cost of parking around Swindon town centre.

My prediction is that if they were to end this deal shopper footfall at the Brunel would return to 17 per cent down in January…. If the council were to remove these improved tariffs it would cause a wipe-out in January.

Welcome to Mt Molehill, Mr Wilkes. Both Mr Young of Swindon Borough Council and Mr Jackson of inSwindon manage to be rather more circumspect.

I think these statistics underline our strategy, meaning that if you give someone a four-hour ticket for about the same price as an hour long stay, they will spend more time and money in the town centre.

Visually the town centre looks busier this year and certainly people are still coming into town and still purchasing in all of the stores.

And seemingly purchasing more or more expensive items, as on average store revenue is the same as last year.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the drop in parking charges has not been beneficial to business in the town centre, but to claim that putting the charges back up would cause ‘wipe out’ is clearly over-dramatic.

The bare facts.

  • In September, the number of shoppers visiting the centre was down 17% from the previous September.
  • So far in December the number is down by ‘just’ 10% from the previous December.
  • Parking figures for 2008 are not available.
  • Since September this year, when the parking charges were cut, the number of people parking in town centre car parks has increased by over 20%.

But there were also things happening between September and December last year, which Mr Wilkes seems to have forgotten. Little things, like two of the UK’s biggest banks almost collapsing. Little things, like Honda announcing that it was going to close its South Marston production lines for several months. So even without the boost from reduced parking charges, it would be reasonable to expect the drop between December 2008 and December 2009 to be less than that between September 2008 — when the economy still had another nosedive to come — and September 2009.

With the council’s finances in a mess, it needs to rely on something better than a retail manager’s dodgy statistics before deciding whether to continue spending our money to keep parking charges down.

Fly-tipping spin

If Mr Palacio of Swindon Borough Council is to be believed, the increase in fly-tipping in Swindon is because his team is doing more to clear it away.

Richard Palacio, Swindon Council’s environmental enforcement manager, said the increased number of reports of flytipping was down to extra resources being deployed by the council to combat the problem.

That’s as logical as the streets and alleyways of central Swindon are clean. The statistics announced by Defra show an increase in enforcement by councils across the country, not just in Swindon, yet there has been an 8% increase in recorded fly-tipping in Swindon, compared with a 9% decrease nationally.

Either Mr Palacio’s team are highly ineffective, or he’s talking rubbish in more ways than one.

No stars

Swindon Borough Council’s latest ‘scores on the doorsnews release has received plenty of publicity. But whilst the complacency of some of those in receipt of a zero star rating is to be deplored, the criticisms of the scoring by some more highly rated* cannot be ignored. The criticism is that the inspection regime is too paper based: an establishment can fail for not filling in the right paperwork, but can pass with poor hygiene if the paperwork is fine.

The information about what contributes to a restaurant’s star rating is rather well buried on Swindon Borough Council’s website. The criteria set-out by the government’s Food Standards Agency for assessing a ‘food business’ are:

  • type of food and method of handling;
  • method of processing;
  • consumers at risk;
  • level of current compliance with food hygiene and safety procedures;
  • level of current compliance with structure of premises;
  • confidence in management and control systems;
  • risk of contamination of food.

But of those, the only three that contribute to the ‘score on the door’ are:

  • level of current compliance with food hygiene and safety procedures;
  • level of current compliance with structure of premises;
  • confidence in management and control systems.

Oddly, ‘risk of contamination of food’ — logically the most important to the consumer — does not contribute to the score. Which might explain why the official definition for a zero-star rating is

Serious non-compliances found but no imminent risk to public health.

Until there’s an inspection regime that’s concerned more about food hygiene than it is about correct paperwork, my choice of restaurants will remain undisturbed.

* At which point I would have liked to have linked to their five star rating, but the council’s search result was broken.

A week in surveys

This week seems to have been a week for Swindon to feature in surveys, some local, some national. As always with statistics, the publicity has been misleading.

First there were the May results of Swindon Strategic Economic Partnership’s business survey. This showed that 45% of those surveyed expect an increase in turnover during the next 3 months whilst 24% expect it to fall and 31% expect no change. The Adver translated that into a headline of ‘Business leaders optimistic about recovery’ whilst Swindon Business News managed a rather more restrainedLocal firms seeing some signs of easing’. With the survey also showing that 47% expect no change in ‘General Business’ — whatever that is — and 68% expecting no change in employment, it’s the headlines that are optimistic, not the business leaders.

The week also saw the publication of a report by the Centre for Cities on youth unemployment. The press seemed keen to portray the report as showing that youth unemployment in Swindon is high. For example, the Telegraph:

Students in Swindon are facing an uncertain future as the one-time boom town takes a beating at the school of hard knocks.

and the Adver:

According to research institute Centre For Cities, the number of unemployed youngsters in Swindon has rocketed from 2.39 per cent in February last year to 7.67 per cent last month – the highest increase in the country.

Now, it’s true that the number of people claiming unemployment benefits in Swindon is now above the national average and that youth unemployment and unemployment in general have risen more quickly in Swindon than elsewhere.

Since the beginning of the recession, Swindon’s claimant count has risen to 5.4 percent – passing the GB average for the first time in 30 years.

But as the report’s own figure 6 shows, youth unemployment is still below the UK average: it may have, in the Adver’s words, rocketed, but it is still below average.

Finally there was a story that people liked living in Swindon but dislike the council.

MOST people like living in Swindon but dislike the local council and feel they have little influence over official decisions. Those are the findings of a major new survey that questioned hundreds of people across the town about their local neighbourhoods and the extent to which they felt able to make their voices heard.

The Place Survey conducted by local councils for the Department of Communities and Local Government does indeed show that 80% of the Swindon population are ‘satisfied with their local area as a place to live’ whilst only 27% believe ‘they can influence decisions in their local area’ and 41% are ‘satisfied with how council runs things’. But the national averages for those are 80%, 29% and 45% respectively. For an example of an unpopular council, try Northampton (only 27% satisfied with the council), for a stubborn one try Gosport (only 20% think they can influence it). So, rather than Swindon Borough Council being singled out by its residents for disdain as the headline would have us believe, their attitude to it is actually rather average.

Just a word

One of the more frustrating aspects of reading reports of proceedings at Swindon Crown Court in the Adver is the double act of Mr Field as judge and Mr Ross as defence lawyer and the incredibly lenient sentences that result. It’s a well known double act, widely commented on, though not in the pages of the Adver where comments are not allowed on their reports of court proceedings. I don’t usually bother to comment on these reports — it would get monotonous — but the comments from Mr Field reported today just beggar belief.

Judge Field quizzed prosecutors at Swindon Crown Court. “Why are these two charged with affray, which has a maximum sentence of three years rather than actual bodily harm which carries a maximum of five years?” he said.

With a comment like that you’d think he was about to hand down a stiff sentence, something close to the maximum he could perhaps? Err… no. Just 36 weeks… suspended, 200 hours unpaid community work and £250 compensation to the victim. That’s more like a single word than a sentence.

Now, I appreciate that the government’s sentencing guidelines don’t help, but with buffoonery like this it’s not surprising that the judiciary is held in such low regard.

Lies, damned lies and tax debt statistics

Swindon Borough Council’s Mr Martin is clearly no statistician. His social analysis skills aren’t too hot either. According to Mr Martin, a league table of wards based on levels of outstanding council tax debt will help them to ‘identify areas that may have problems’

The idea of breaking it down into wards is to help us identify areas that may have problems and see what we can do to help.

He does seem to have a few doubts though.

We have to look more carefully at these figures because for example, Abbey Meads is not one of the places with a lot of benefit claimants

Quite. As Mr Martin clearly hasn’t bothered, I’ll do the analysis for him. Here are the figures – and spin – from the Adver.

Abbey Meads comes in at fifth in the league of council tax dodgers – with over £572,000 owed from 904 court orders. The worst area is Central ward, which is £688,000 in the red with 1,390 court orders. Gorse Hill & Pinehurst, Eastcott and Parks are close behind, each owing in excess of £600,000. The most punctual payers evidently live in Ridgeway ward, where just under £44,000 is outstanding from 71 court orders.

Let’s concentrate on just the three wards for which full figures have been given. In the council’s chosen ranking, they are:

  • Central — £688,000 from 1,390 court orders
  • Abbey Meads — £572,000 from 904 court orders
  • Ridgeway — £44,000 from 71 court orders

I can’t find figures for how many taxable properties there are in each ward. The best indicator of ward size I can find is the electorate (i.e. those registered to vote) at the last local elections.

With the population of Abbey Meads four times as large as that of Ridgeway, any analysis based on totals per ward is going to be heavily skewed in favour of Ridgeway and against Abbey Meads. There are various sums one can do to try to remove that effect.

Ward Debt per
Court orders per
1000 electors
Debt per
court order
Abbey Meads £53 84 £632
Central £88 178 £494
Ridgeway £17 28 £619

From that analysis you could say that it’s not the wards with high numbers of benefit claimants that have the problem, but the more affluent ones, as there the amounts owed – the last column in the table – are, on average, much higher.

Of course, if you pick the other columns in the table, the conclusion is different… but not more correct.

Never happy

There’s no pleasing some people. Take Mr Montaut for example. First he complains that a Christmas tree in the Magic Roundabout might be too distracting to drivers. Now that the tree’s in place, he’s complaining that it’s too dull!

Still, if nothing else he’s given us yet another montyism*:

I was disappointed, but not in a negative way.

*Montyism n Statement that is so illogical and contradictory as to be humorous.


Under-used. That is the description Mr Perkins has given to Merton Fields.

The area had been leased to the parish council, which had resulted in it being underused…. The borough is showing leadership in putting to use this under-used resource to provide more sports and leisure facilities.

Mr Perkins, the councillor that brought us legalised graffiti in the town centre, seems to struggle with the concept of parkland and open-space as much as he does with the concept of art. For open-space — something the council’s own plans acknowledge is very limited in Swindon — to have the benefits that it is perceived to bring to communities, it has to be not very intensely used. Open-space that is too well used ceases to be open-space and becomes a crowded space!

It’s pants!

I don’t wish to denigrate the efforts of the Swindon Real Nappy Network. (I’ll quite happily denigrate the Adver’s ability to get a web address right though: swindonrealnappynetwork.org.uk, as published in the Adver, won’t get you very far.) I’m old enough to have been in nappies before disposable nappies were commonplace, and my parents were sufficiently thrifty that once my sibling and I were beyond the nappy-wearing phase they cut them up and re-used them as face flannels. So I have nothing against their objectives. I’m just rather puzzled by the logic — if you can call it that — behind their support for the proposals from Swindon Borough Council and Wiltshire Wildlife Trust for a publicly funded nappy laundry service.

Disposable nappies are filled with a chemical gel that draws the moisture in to it. But it also draws all the good moisture away. At a time when parents are so keen on organic food for their children it seems madness to be putting chemicals so close to a very sensitive area.

Good moisture? Do they think there’s good water and evil water? And if they’re so concerned about the use of chemicals, does that mean that this laundry service will not use any chemicals? No detergents, no disinfectants, just nappies returned after a thorough rinse in pure water? I suspect not.

Empty housing contradictions

Having seen all the fuss in the local paper about the number of empty houses in Swindon, I had a look at the enforcement action a charity was suggesting that the council should use to get the houses occupied. The first thing I noticed was that the charity, the Empty Homes Agency, seems rather closely linked to government. I also see that despite claiming in the pages of the Adver that compulsory purchase orders and Empty Dwelling Management Orders should be used by the council in Swindon to reduce the number of empty houses, its own CEO on his blog admits they’d have little impact. In fact, it’s one of several stories on the blog suggesting that the powers it promotes aren’t much use… not least because councils seem to be amongst the worst offenders when it comes to leaving houses empty.