11 June 2001


Ups and downs?

A couple of months ago, on March 14 to be precise, I spotted an item on the front page of the Western Telegraph headlined "Telegraph sales keep going UP and UP" above a report that the average weekly circulation for the period July - Dec 2000 was 28,041 compared to 27,581 for the previous six months.

As you might imagine, over the past ten years, Old Grumpy has been a keen student of the Telegraph's sales figures.

Prior to the Mercury's launch in October 1992, the Telegraph's circulation had been hovering around the 29,000 mark (Jan 1992 - 28,964; March 1992 - 29,274).

Remarkably, on October 21 1992, coincidentally the very week the Mercury first went on sale, the Telegraph ran a front page story under the banner: "Telegraph sales leap" informing its readers that during September 1992 circulation had hit a new high of 29,890.

So, rather than going UP and UP, Aunty's sales have been going DOWN and DOWN over the past 10 years, from 29,890 to 27,581 - a significant fall of 8%.

I am offering a ten pound note to the first person to send me a press cutting from the Telegraph recording this precipitous drop in circulation.

I also notice that this self serving statistical spin has invaded the Mercury - motto "Not afraid to tell the truth".

On 17 March 2000 the Mercury's front page trumpeted "Merc is flying higher!" above a story which ran: "Sales of the Mercury are going up, and that's official".

Apparently the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) had confirmed the Mercury's average weekly circulation between June and December 1999 as 8,244 compared to the 8,000 (approx) when we sold the paper to Newscom Ltd.

Fast forward a year to March 16 2001 when, in almost identical terms, the Mercury announced: "Merc still on the up and up" followed by the news that ABC had certified that average weekly circulation was 7974 for the period July - Dec 2000 compared to 7871 for the six months previous.

Old Grumpy is offering another brown beer voucher to the first person to produce a press cutting recording the Mercury's 5% drop in sales between the second half of 1999 (8,244) and the first half of 2000 (7871).

I am not expecting to have to reach for my wallet.

One of the most difficult things about running a newspaper is to avoid publishing other people's propaganda.

When you start peddling your own, you really have sold the pass.


Propaganda on the rates.

Another piece of statistical sleight of hand that caught my eye recently is the legend "All these services for just 51p per day" on the large, expensive-looking display boards in the foyer of County Hall.

The implicit claim being that the people of Pembrokeshire enjoy the services provided by the County Council - education, social services, highways, public protection etc,etc - for less than the cost of two packets of crisps.

All this spin for just £200,000 a year (the cost of running the Department of Marketing and Communications) which produces this rubbish, would be Old Grumpy's reply.

Having already exposed the lie, put about by the ruling Independent Political (sic) Group, that this year's standstill Council Tax is down to their sound management of the Council's affairs, I would now point out that the figure of 51p per day is the result of arithmetic trickery on a heroic scale.

It is arrived at by dividing the total raised from council tax payers by the population of Pembrokeshire (120,000 approx) and further dividing by 365 to arrive at the daily rate.

The first flaw is that the population of Pembrokeshire includes a large number of children and others who do not pay council tax.

If the calculation is based on the county's 43,000 Band D equivalent council tax payers the daily rate works out at £1.36 (£9.56 per week.)

But that is only half the story. Less than half, in fact, because the council only raises 16% of its income from council tax.

The balance comes from central government's Revenue Support Grant (£86.2 million)and Business Rates (£24.2 million) all of which flow, one way or another, from the pockets of taxpayers.

In fact, total council expenditure calculated on a daily rate gives £3 a day on a population basis, and on a council taxpayer basis, of £8.37 per day (£58.63 per week.)

The only reason I can think of for voting for the Liberal Democrats is that they propose a local income tax.

As I understand it, instead of your taxes heading off to London and back to the county council via the Welsh Assembly, your payslip would show two separate tax deductions - for national income tax and local income tax.

Old Grumpy can think of no better way to increase participation in local elections-currently running at about 30%, than informing the average taxpayer that he was forking out £50 a week towards the county council.

Not only would this increase voter turn out, but, in my view, it would encourage the electorate to turn out some of the deadbeats who currently represent us.

It might also inspire the voters to ask how much of their £50 quid was being spent on feeding them misleading propaganda.


Precious stone

Old Grumpy hears that the county council's misguided £100,000 lottery-funded project to drag/float a bluestone from the Preseli hills to Stonehenge has been abandoned.

I understand that the reason/excuse for this decision to bale out is that the council can't find anyone to insure the sea borne leg of this doomed venture.

This explanation cannot possibly be true because I notice in the council's estimates published on 15 February 2001 that the council has £916, 765 in a fund known as the insurance reserve.

So, if it wished to, the council could self-insure the project.

Thankfully, someone in the Chief Officer's Management Board has decided that rather than put our money at risk the plug should be pulled on the whole doomed enterprise.

We should be thankful for small mercies, but there are still some serious questions to be answered.

I read in the local press that the council has not drawn down any of the £100,000 lottery grant allocated to the project.

Now that the stone haul has been kicked into touch, it is highly unlikely that the Lottery Board will stump up any money whatsoever.

So, what is the source of the money so far expended on consultants' reports, equipment, boat building etc, if not our Council Taxes or EU grants given for some other purpose?

It is time our sleepy opposition parties started asking some serious questions about this fiasco and, if they fail to get satisfactory answers from the council, they should take their concerns to the District Auditor.

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