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.