Gritty numbers

I’ve mentioned Tim Harford on this blog before. Tim is basically the UK’s “Mr Statistics” – as well as his books and newspaper columns, he presents the BBC’s flagship/only stats programme More or Less. Every Friday for half the year, Tim and his colleagues shine a light into the gloom of dodgy numbers propagated by (mostly) politicians, public bodies and the media.

You’d think that, in the presence of forensic minds like Harford and his militant twin Ben Goldacre, such spreaders of misinformation might tread carefully and stick to the facts, without too much spin and bluster. If you DID think that, you’d be reckoning without the Milton Keynes Liberal Democrats.

This month’s edition of the lovingly-photocopied “Focus” newsletter includes a topical paragraph on the subject of “grit bins”, complete with the obligatory picture of Councillor Sam Crooks leaning on one. (It’s tempting to suggest that the article illustrates the picture, given their relative size and prominence on the page). The article, in full, reads as follows:

Last year’s LIB DEM Council installed over 160 new grit bins throughout the city.

There’s been a 90% cut this year – barely a dozen new bins, we’ve been told.

“This is outrageous” says SAM CROOKS “Being able to help ourselves to grit when we need it prevents accidents and keeps us safe”

Well yes, it does. (I assume, I haven’t checked.) So I’d have thought that installing more of them would be a Good Thing, but Focus and Crooks have managed, with breathtaking cheek, to openly report an increase yet present it as a cut – and not just any old cut, but a whopping 90%. OK, the number of new bins installed will (if the figures are correct) be 92.5% lower than last year – but that really doesn’t add up to a cut of any description, let alone one imperilling the previously non-slip residents of Milton Keynes.

Two facts about Milton Keynes Council

1. The 2011/12 budget was passed prior to the most recent elections, at a time when the Liberal Democrats were the largest party. The budget motion was seconded by Councillor Sam Crooks.

2. Councillor Sam Crooks represents the same ward as Conservative Councillor John Bint, the current Cabinet member responsible for Transport and Highways.

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