Anas Sarwar gets his facts wrong


  By George Kerevan
ANAS Sarwar MP is deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party.  Mr Sarwar inherited his Glasgow Central seat in almost dynastic fashion, from his father Mohammad Sarwar in 2010.
Following the publication of the latest official employment figures on 17 October, Anas Sarwar announced to the BBC: “In the last three months, 7,000 people in Scotland have lost their jobs while employment in the rest of the UK is going up – this SNP government has to start taking responsibility for that”.

Mr Sarwar is factually wrong.

The figures published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) do not say that 7,000 people “have lost their jobs” in the period June through August (i.e. the summer).

It is true that the figure for the total jobless rose by 7,000 to 222,000. But most of that 7,000 figure has nothing to do with people losing their jobs, as Mr Sarwar claims. Rather, it is due to young people joining the labour market from school of university, which is normal in the summer. And from people previously not looking for work returning to the labour market – usually a positive sign of returning economic confidence.

The ONS figures actually show that the fall in the number of jobs in the Scottish economy of the summer was only 1,000. Certainly that is going in the wrong direction.  But it does not help policy analysis to misquote the true figures, or exaggerate actual job losses by a factor of seven.

The critical problem is that the Scottish economy is not creating new jobs fast enough to absorb people entering the labour market, less that firms are shedding jobs – Mr Sarwar please note. An independent Scotland free to boost bank lending and capital investment could change that. 

It is also important to remember that the ONS jobs data has to be interpreted very carefully. The jobs numbers are calculated using a sampling method that is often subject to later revision. For instance, the June-August figures say that no less than 40,000 new jobs were created in Wales. If so, the Welsh economy is booming – which it is not. One must suspect that 40,000 figure will be heavily revised.

Another trap for the unwary is that the headline ONS figures treat full-time and part-time jobs as being equal. Remember Mr Sarwar’s claim that “7,000 people in Scotland have lost their jobs while employment in the rest of the UK is going up”? But of the 212,000 ‘jobs’ created in the UK in the June-August quarter, no less than 125,000 were part-time. That is getting on for two out of three. Over the year to August, the percentage is almost 70 per cent. Don’t imagine the UK economy is recovering.

So what is really happening in the Scottish labour market? The Scottish jobless rate now stands at 8.2 per cent – slightly higher than the UK average of 7.9 per cent.

The latest ONS numbers clearly show a temporary ‘bounce’ in employment in London during the Olympic Games – as we might expect from an investment by the UK taxpayer of £9 billion. Employment in London rose by 101,000 over the summer, accounting for well over half the jobs increase for England as a whole. This ‘one off’ goes a long way to explaining the relative improvement in UK average employment compared with Scotland.

True, if we look at the year-on-year figures it seems at first sight that Scotland has done less well in job creation than most other UK regions.

For the 12 months to August, Scotland added 16,000 jobs net. In England, the figures were: North East (46,000), North West (14,000), Yorkshire and Humberside (43,000), West Midlands (65,000), East of England (58,000), London (159,000), South East (13,000), and South West (53,000). Only one English region registered a drop: East Midlands (13,000 down).

Yet these figures are not the whole story. Much of this economic improvement in the English regions represents a ‘catching up’ process with Scotland. It is important to grasp (Mr Sarwar please note) that the overall level of employment in Scotland is higher than in most English regions, even now.

The rate of employment in Scotland – the percentage of the workforce in a job – stood at 71.2 in August. Employment was lower in the North East (67.9), North West (69.8), Yorkshire and Humber (69.5), West Midlands (69.3), and amazingly even in London (69.7). Employment in Scotland also outperforms Wales (69.8) and Northern Ireland (66.7).

This good overall performance against most UK regions is clear evidence that the policy of the Scottish Government since 2008 (i.e. to bring forward spending and to shift from revenue expenditure to capital investment) is having a positive impact.

The latest ONS figures, if properly understood, provide more good news. The Scottish claimant count fell by 1,300 over the quarter – further evidence the jobs market is easing. Separate data shows that the number of young people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance fell in September for the third month in a row and is now 3,500 lower than in June.

The ONS employment data also shows there was a big jump in self-employment in Scotland in the past 12 months: up 25,000 (9.3 per cent).  This may be proof that Scotland is becoming more entrepreneurial.

At an international level, employment in Scotland is higher than in 21 of the 27 EU member states, including France and Finland. It is also higher than in Japan or the United States. Hardly proof that the Scottish Government’s economic policy is failing, Mr Sarwar.