Statistics are great. You can use them to create any story you like. My current favourite is the one that came out in a study from some outfit I’d never heard of called Verso Economics.
They say that for every job funded in the renewables sector in Scotland, we lose 1.1 jobs in another sector.
I’ve read the report a few times now and I think what it’s trying to say is that if you only have a fixed pot of money then, self-evidently, you can’t spend it more than once.
So, if you spend it on supporting jobs in the renewable sector you can’t spend it on creating jobs in say pharmaceuticals or electronics.
That seems logical enough, but I still really don’t see why one renewables job is worth 1.1 jobs in any other sector. In fact, in England the claim is even worse in that they say one job is worth 3.7 jobs in any other sector.
Now of course what this outfit is up to is an attempt to discredit renewables by making the numbers look bad.
This is why the report is called Worth The Candle.
What it says is that given the amount of CO renewables – and particularly wind turbines – will save, what we are putting into the expansion of wind by way of subsidies such as Renewable Obligation Certificates isn’t good value for money.
This is, of course, how they come to their job-cost figures.
By playing some smart number-crunching game they can prove their mathematical point and, remarkably, even produce a conclusion that states: “the policy to promote the renewable electricity sector in both Scotland and the UK is economically damaging”.
Now, while I’m sure these people think they’re being terribly clever, they are obviously playing to a specific audience, made up primarily of members of the flat earth supporters’ club.
The rest of us – the ones with brains and a vision of the world beyond the end of next week – quite properly dismiss all these claims. Not because we don’t admire their effort or their number-crunching expertise, but because we all know that renewables should have nothing to do with reducing CO levels, and everything to do with having to deal with a reduction in conventional hydrocarbon-based energy supply, as well as increased demand.
And, of course, terribly boring old stuff like the increase in the oil price that can so easily be caused by events such as the revolutions going on in the Middle East and North Africa.
But hey, I don’t want to spoil the fun these people are having deluding themselves and their followers. But having read their offering I think I’ll just ignore them from now on.
Of course, the other purveyors of nonsense where numbers are concerned are the people that write reports and forecasts on the numbers of jobs that will be created by new industries. There have been some absolute beauties recently.
One among many that caught my attention recently was all to do with carbon capture and sequestration.
In a report produced by the Scottish Centre for Carbon Capture and Storage, one of the headline claims is that this as yet almost non-existent industry “could” create 13,000 jobs in Scotland and 14,000 elsewhere in the UK by 2020.
That’s a mere nine years away.
In fact, if you look at other data in the report, they talk about 70,000 jobs across the UK by 2030, of which 20,000 could be in Scotland.
Despite the depth of analysis the authors have gone into, intuition and common sense tells me these numbers are simply massively optimistic.
As it happens I’m also nowhere near being convinced that CCS is actually an economic proposition.
I was told recently by someone who was involved in a prospective capture project, that its costs could double the cost of the electricity being produced.
This same person also agreed with me that to add value to CO by using it in enhanced oil recovery projects is going to be difficult, as oil companies still see it as high risk, though some are carbon capture practitioners in the context of enhancing hydrocarbons recovery.
In my view we need to look at algae technology to absorb the CO and turn it into oils and protein. The Americans are investing heavily in the development of this technology. Why aren’t we? Obstinacy, perhaps?
But this same use of numbers to paint the picture they want also applies to other organisations.
Subsea UK recently came up with a “business activity review” which, among other things, looked at the “spread” of the size of companies in the subsea sector.
One of the very interesting bits of information they produced was that the top 5% which comprise the 36 largest companies and their subsidiaries, produce 70% of combined UK subsea turnover.
I was intrigued, because I felt if we knew who those companies are it would give us a clearer idea of how Scotland and the UK were actually performing.
So, not unreasonably, I asked Subsea UK if they could tell me the names of those top 5% companies.
They said no, adding the information was not in the public domain and Subsea UK had “a covenant with those providing information in confidence not to divulge specifics”.
Now, bearing in mind that all I was after was a set of company names, all of which are in the public domain anyway, this made me instantly suspicious that the real reason they wouldn’t give them to me is because very few of them are actually Scottish, let alone British. That, of course, would only serve to demonstrate that as a nation we’ve not really done anything like as well as everyone keeps pretending we have, and we couldn’t possibly have that could we.
Statistics can be useful, but they can be used positively or negatively to create whatever story you want to tell. While organisations – private or public – use them to try to influence opinion or indeed promote themselves or their industry, they shouldn’t be surprised when cynical observers like me try to take them apart.
I’d like to see some honesty, particularly around job numbers. Let’s have more emphasis on the conditions that need to be in place before we even come close to creating huge levels of employment, otherwise the people producing these reports just end up looking distinctly foolish.