The scandal of voodoo economics

The ‘research’ carried out to justify opposition to Westminster’s new night time parking restrictions has got me so enraged that I can barely articulate my contempt for it. It is a quite disgraceful use of supposedly ‘independent’ research to back up a conclusion which had already been made long before any work was carried out.  And the Standard has not only splashed it all over its front page, but also, in a leader,suggests that it provides strong evidence for the damage that the new parking restrictions will cause.

It does nothing of the sort, and should be a stain forever on the work of the authoritative sounding Centre for Economics and Business Research whose reputation will be deeply damaged by associating itself with such nonsense.Rant over, here’s the facts: the ‘research’ claims that 5,000 – well 5,100, actually, to give it spurious accuracy – jobs will be lost as a result of the new charges of £4 80 per hour between 6 30pm and midnight. On what does the researcher base this extraordinary claim? Well, the report says that there will be an £800m loss of output which will come from catering – £330m – entertainment – £314m – and retail – £145m (despite the fact that most shops are closed by early evening.

So where do these figures come from? Well it is difficult to say. The report, which cost a mere £10,000, enough for say 10 days work at best from an average consultant,  admits that : ‘There was not scope for a thorough investigation of the business and economic impacts of the new parking charges. However, we have made some indicative estimates based on some rough-and-ready, yet not implausible, assumptions’.  There is then some detailed ‘analysis’ of each sector which amounts pretty much to more guesswork. In fact, delving further, the report reckons that the total income generated by the West End is £88bn,and therefore the £800m figures represents a mere 1 per cent, which is hardly significant.

The figures are also based on the CEBR’s estimate – for which there is no evidence – that between 20 per cent and 25 per cent of evening visitors come to the West End by car, an impausably high figure when normally, as the report admits, private car’s modal share, excluding taxis,  in central London hovers around the 10 per cent mark. From this, the report extrapolates that there will be loss of profits of  ‘£714 million and a predicted loss of almost £590 million in the West End’.

So at best the report is based on , euh, ‘not implausible’ assumptions. In my language, that’s called guessing. The report’s author, clearly a bit abashed at pocketing £10k for this rubbish, admits ‘Note that we do not pretend that our analysis is anything other than indicative’  Yet, by splashing with the 5,000 jobs figures and saying in a leader that ‘we now know just how great that cost [economic cost of the restrictions] islikely to be the Evening Standard suggests that the figures are authoritative. This is junk research given credence by junk journalism.

  • Annasmith2

    £10,000 for a front page splash on the Evening Standard – money well spent from the client’s perspective!

    As you state despite throwing in some actual statistics to fill up a few pages – the analysis is based on no evidence at all just their assumptions on the impact on some sectors. Talk about selling yourself to the highest bidder

  • Chairrdrf

    Hopefully Westminster Council will have the bottle to continue regardless (I never thought I would write that). Then we will see that there is zero or minimal effect on the economy and have some more evidence to go ahead with more parkingr estyrictions elsewhere

  • charlie

    This debate reminds me of an scheme by Virgin Trains at Carlisle and Preston etc about 3 years ago to enhance the size and substantially increase revenue in their station car parks, they began charging hundreds of pounds a year to use the staff car park which was fine if you were allready a fairly well paid driver or guard  whose train train compay paid for a pass, but the lowly magazine and buffet counter staff and cleaners etc were all booted out, so whilst its an easy form of revenue raising increasing car parking charges sometimes hurts the far less well off

  • Len

    The real problem is for low paid musicians, kitchen staff, waiters and cleaners who work antisocial hours. They rely on free parking when they go to work and there is no proper public transport when they go home in the early hours. These people cannot afford to pay West End car park charges.

  • I’d be interested to follow through on size and charges issue on big car parks. In Carlisle the station car park is apparently the only big car park centrally located and in order to fill it it is priced and marketed to non-rail users, to keep it filled up. 

    There is talk that we passed peak-car in 2007 and in my driving (and hitch hiking) – largely overnight seems to reinforce this, with noticably reduced traffic outside the commuting times and roads which are so under utilised for the cost of building them that David Begg used to remark “if they were railways they would have been closed years ago”  Yet we still build despite the signs – in Central London car parks are not filling up, in Glasgow huge banners offer bargain rates, and car valet services, in Leicester half of the giant Lee Circle car park is closed and mothballed, and the £40m of Network Rail money (ie largely public funds) used to enlarge car parks in anticipation of car -linked passenger growth. At Preston  (£11+M) the upper levels are not yet filled and the annual charges cut by 40% to boost use, Likewise Wigan NW.  My local Lidl & Iceland supermarket site is lucky to fill 30% of the space – and at one stage a cheeky car sales operation set up by parking in the distant corner of the site with prices and phone number posted on the car windscreens. 

    As to the argument that the less well off won’t be able to afford to park, this rather misses the fact that the less well off cannot afford to drive and ibn not owning a car have worked out a regime based on the fact that it is cheaper to use public transport, or cycle and walk.  This is also a driver for the many who have either taken their cars off the road (SORN registrations have soared in the past year) and the fract that the number of 17-25 year olds holding a driving licence has halved to around 25% in the past decade, with those holding a licence opting not to own a car but hire instead.  Indeed there are many workers who will actually find it cheaper to commute by taxi, especially for low paid service workers in Central London who may well also be sharing their accommodation with others working the same shifts.

    Of course the answer to be perfectly fair would be to return to the pre-parking meter days Westminster Council removes all the messy yellow lines and confusion of signs from all the streets (eliminating the disputes that arise when lines are work and signs missing or misread) and returns to the days when it was not legal to park anywhere on a road, as the road was fully required for the movement of traffic – the sole statutory obligation of Westminster Council when it comes to all the roads they manage. Stopping to unload or set down is permitted but the vehicle MUST then be removed to a parking space, and there are plenty of off street car parks in Westminster with space thanks to the congestion charge, many operated by Westminster’s arms length parking operation Masterpark. 

    Large operations – like theatres can negotiate the return of land – generally in the title of the properties frontaging the street when the street not required for moving traffic is stopped up and no longer required as a road, to provide their own parking on their own land, and as an asset to the value of the property it will enhance the ratable value of the property

    Of course removing the parking bays and fine-tuning the streets to deliver the best network for moving traffic will often enable the widening of footways and provision of clear and direct non motorised transport corridors, that can be optimised for walking and cycling directly to rail and bus routes. Drawing on Harley Sherlock’s fine illustration of too large a truck in too small a street we should also consider permanent operation of the PUDO scheme demonstrated for a car-free Covent Garden a few years ago, where every van based delivery or collection was transferred to cargo bikes, generally demonstrating how wasteful the use of a very expensive van or truck for this work is when the cost is compared to use of a cargo cycle.

    Pictures – car park offers – to boost use.  Ironic reversal on many London commuter stations – excluding Surbiton

  • Aureol

    CEBR are the ‘go to’ organisation if you want to guarentee a report (from an organisation that sounds really really important) that will say if we do / don’t do whatever it was the client wants / doesnt want then the cost to the economy will be £ (insert figure that is on the verge of absurd amount here). They’ve been doing it for years! Good to see them being called on it at last…