Secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson, bungles his figures during Northern Ireland Questions, leading to overestimated job creation figures.
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson, lauded as the ‘standard bearer’ in the Tory cabinet, wrongly declared that 57,000 jobs had been created, when that was in fact the number of people unemployed.
The omnishambles which has been a hallmark of the UK government over recent months seems now to be contagious as the Northern Ireland office was this week claimed as its latest victim.
Last Wednesday during Northern Ireland Questions, Conservative MP for Shipley Philip Davies called on Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Owen Paterson to present ways to lower corporation tax across Northern Ireland to boost growth. Paterson appeared to indicate that 57,000 jobs have been created across the province.
With Ed Miliband in the chamber, Paterson declared:
“My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear – and the leader of the opposition will be delighted to hear – that, thanks to the reductions in corporation tax introduced by my Right Hon. Friend the Chancellor, 57,000 more people are in jobs in Northern Ireland than were in jobs before the election.”
However, the 57,000 figure was suspiciously identical to the number of people out of work as outlined in last week’s employment statistics, published by the Department for Finance and Personnel. It has since emerged that the figure was a typo by his officials and that the figure of new jobs created was in fact 30,000 lower than the number Paterson had cited; standing instead at 27,000.
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Admitting the mix-up, a statement from the Northern Ireland office read:
Every effort is made when preparing figures for official briefings to ensure that they are 100% accurate. Unfortunately on this occasion a typing error occurred and we didn’t spot it.
The figure should have read 27,000 more people employed in Northern Ireland, not 57,000, and we are happy to correct that.
The fact remains that there are 27,000 more people in employment in Northern Ireland than for the period immediately prior to the general election and that is news that we can all welcome.
Although the creation of 27,000 jobs is to be welcomed, given that the unemployment statistics had been published on the very morning that Owen Paterson was answering questions, one wonders whether he had actually studied them in detail.
Calling on the Secretary of State to “do his homework in future”, shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Vernon Coaker, responded:
“This is another example of an out of touch government and secretary of state. They haven’t got the right policies, and now they can’t even find the right figures. Instead of manufacturing fictional jobs, Owen Paterson should have been calling for measures in the Budget and the Queen’s Speech to create real jobs and economic growth in Northern Ireland.
“These 30,000 made-up jobs don’t make up for the 91,000 pensioners and the 22,500 families in Northern Ireland who are losing out because of the Tory-led government’s granny tax and cuts to tax credits.
“The secretary of state needs to do his homework in future. The people of Northern Ireland don’t expect him to get his sums wrong on something as important as this.”
The developments are likely to have left Owen Paterson, touted as the standard bearer for the Conservative right in cabinet since the departure of Liam Fox, red-faced.
Throughout much of the Gordon Brown era, despite best efforts, each relaunch or attempt by ministers to get things back on track were then followed by an amateurish mistake that demonstrated the luck that they had lost, despite Brown himself having hired an adviser to end a number of visual gaffes he managed to walk into.
Owen Paterson’s slip up might not necessarily be at the top of the list of problems faced by the coalition, but it does point to a loss of luck that all governments crave and which, if lost altogether, can be fatal.
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