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Fag packet figures or accurate prediction?

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The day after chancellor George Osborne stood up in Parliament in October 2010 and announced a massive 28% cut in local government funding, the then chairman of the LGA predicted that: “Up to 100,000 jobs in local authorities will go - that’s a 10th of the workforce.”

A month later the LGA upped its estimate to 140,000 fewer jobs “in the next year”, blaming the “unexpected severity of the cuts”.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles was highly sceptical about the claims and speedily responded that he had “seen better figures put together on the back of a fag packet”. He accused the LGA of “scaremongering”.

So who was right and who was wrong in the end?

The LGA believes it was right. To prove its case it points to its December 2011 report, Work in Progress, written with the Audit Commission, where it suggested there had been a 145,000 drop in local government jobs “in the last year”.

This figure came from PwC’s Spending Review, One Year On report, which quoted Office for National Statistics public sector employment data between the second quarters of 2010 and 2011.

However, some - the communities secretary for one - might argue that this is not the correct figure to use against the LGA’s 140,000 benchmark.

First, the ONS definition of ‘local government’ includes public servants who are not directly employed by town halls - principally police, police civilian staff and teachers. The ONS, however, does publish council-only data. This reveals that the drop in the same time period was far smaller at 118,200 and appears to vindicate Mr Pickles’ scepticism.

But, the story does not end there.

There is a second problem with the 145,000 figure proffered as proof of the LGA’s prescience. This statistic represents job cuts between April 2010 and 2011, but the LGA did not make its prediction until November 2010. Data for quarter four would be more appropriate but - sadly for those of you reading this on the edge of your seats - this is not available for another couple of months.

But, how about a little peek at the quarter three figures to give us a hint of what could come? They tell us the number of posts dropped by 167,600 since the year before.

This suggests Mr Pickles will have to eat his fag packet after all.

*All figures in this article are related to headcount, not full time equivalent (FTE).

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