Lies, damned lies and statistics

Old prejudices about poverty-stricken Iberians die hard, or so it seems, at the Office for National Statistics. For the ONS deemed Spain to be a developing country when it was compiling its figures on mergers and acquisitions.

When the ONS issued a press release on Tuesday about takeovers of British companies, bemused journalists called to inquire why there had been a seven-fold increase to £40.2bn in funds coming from developing countries. Only then did someone at the ONS decide to check whether it could really be true.

Two of the biggest acquisitions in the UK last year were by Spanish companies – Telefonica’s £17.7bn purchase of O2, the mobile operator, and Ferrovial’s £16.3bn consortium deal for BAA, the airport group. Each was worth more than the £11.3bn estimated by the ONS as emanating from the European Union.

Eventually the ONS issued a correction, and at a stroke the EU’s £11.3bn was marked up to £42.2bn, while the developing countries’ £40.2bn was sqeezed to £13.7bn.

The ONS might like to note this little statistic: Spain’s economy has outperformed the UK’s each year for the past decade.

It’s the Shilpa show

The Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty swapped Big Brother for Big Ben when she rolled up at Westminster for prime minister’s questions. In the company of the Labour politician Keith Vaz, Shetty enjoyed the kind of attention usually doled out to visiting heads of state.

Pursued by TV cameras and photographers, she was feted by ministers, MPs, and even Tony Blair, whom she thanked for his support during last month’s reality TV race row. In the final days of Blair’s premiership, Labour leaders are desperate for any publicity they can get. They no doubt hope that some of the star dust will have rubbed off.

Under water

Thousands of home-owners in the York suburb of Huntington have been advised to question their insurance premiums after a bungle by the Environment Agency described the area as being “at significant risk from extreme flood by river and sea”.

By sea? It will take a lot of global warming before the coastline reaches York. Local homeowner David Kitson says his insurance premium has more than doubled and he is demanding a refund.

“We’re half-a-mile from the River Foss and at the top of a slope,” he says. “If we were going to be flooded, half of York would be under water. And how can we be at risk from the sea when we’re 40 miles from it?”

Huntington Parish Council is advising residents to check if their premiums have risen as a result of an incorrect flood risk assessment. Vice-chairman Peter Vaughan said the idea that the community was at risk from the sea was “lunacy”, joking: “I look forward to the agency issuing residents with Noah-style arks.”

The EA is now investigating the “misleading” classification.

Sunny Scotland

Scottish Renewables, the trade body that promotes the generation of power from wind, water and biomass, has coined a brutally honest marketing slogan for Scotland. “We’re wet, we’re windy and we have lots of forests,” said acting chief executive Jason Ormiston, who is presumably not seeking a move into the tourist trade.

Ormiston was unveiling a report in the Scottish parliament that noted a solar water system installed in the controversial building at Holyrood had cost £57,000 – surely one of the cheapest parts of that infamously costly structure. But does the sun ever shine in wet, windy Scotland?

Older and wiser

Apologies to 73-year-old Jeffrey Titford, named here on Tuesday as the oldest of the 10 UK Independence Party MEPs. We now learn that, contrary to information supplied by a UKIP spokesman, Titford’s colleague Derek Clark is two weeks his senior.

However, it was not Clark himself who wanted to set the record straight but Tom Wise, another of UKIP’s MEPs. Wise is a positively youthful 58. Is he trying to make a point?

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