Budget 2015: French don’t fall for an uninspired jobs statistic

“Of course France has created many, many more jobs than Yorkshire”

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To quote the acerbic Tory MP Alan Clark, the Chancellor appears to have been a little “economical with the actualité” while boasting about the North’s economic recovery.

George Osborne tried to claim that thanks to the Government’s stewardship of the economy more jobs had been created in Yorkshire than the whole of France.

But it was a suggestion that immediately drew raised eyebrows across the Channel with French sources pointing out that Mr Osborne’s claim was – by any objective standards – wilfully misleading.

“Of course France has created many, many more jobs than Yorkshire,” said one. “That is the reality.”

Another well informed observer of French politics, who asked not to be named, suggested Mr Osborne’s remark as well as his jibe about Agincourt – would go down rather badly in France.

“I don’t think that is the kind of comment you would find in an official speech by a senior French minister,” they said. “They are not going to be hugely happy in Paris.”

 

Mr Osborne appeared to be relying on a dubious economic sleight of hand in making his assertion. Most people would assume that ‘jobs created’ would mean exactly that. But in fact Mr Osborne was referring to ‘net job creation’ – or the number of new jobs created minus those lost.

Because unemployment has been rising in France that would mean any part of the UK that created more than one net job would have, in Mr Osborne’s words “created more jobs than the whole of France”. By the Chancellor’s measure – that could be a single village.

In fact, the Treasury later admitted, the figures were also out of date – as they measured net job growth between 2010 and 2013. A spokeswoman said these were the latest figures available.

So why did Mr Osborne pick on “the great county of Yorkshire” as his comparator?

Well, in the main, because a significant amount of his budget was about trying to see off the charge that the Conservatives are a party of the South. In his speech Mr Osborne announced that he had reached an agreement to allow Greater Manchester to keep 100 per cent of the growth in local business rates as part of his plan for a new Northern Powerhouse.

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Northern power: Manchester is to have more control over public spending (Getty)

This comes on top a deal which will give Manchester new powers over health and transport spending that will be delegated from Whitehall and a new city deal for the West Yorkshire Combined Authority covering Leeds and the surrounding area.

The Chancellor hopes that the devolution package – along with additional investment announced in the autumn statement – will help the Tories in the North where they are defending a number of key seats from Labour.

There were also fillips for other electorally important parts of the country in the budget.

The Midlands was offered a £60m investment in the universities-led Energy Research Accelerator and a £100m boost to the automotive industry “to stay ahead in the race to driverless technology”.

Public transport was the carrot dangled before the South-west in the form of a new franchise which he said would bring “greatly improved rail services”. Reduced tolls on the Severn Crossing – a key transport link for Wales – were set out as well as a city deal for Cardiff and Government backing for plans for a £1bn world-first scheme to provide green energy from the tides of the Severn Estuary.

The Local Government Association said the plan to allow business rate retention in Manchester was a “significant step forward” but one which should “not just be limited to a handful of areas”.

“All parts of the country should be able to reap the benefits of having a thriving local economy,” said LGA chairman David Sparks.

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