Wednesday, 9 January 2013

I'll Bet!

Mutant statistics - based on flawed definitions, poor measurements or bad samples - emerge, and often receive a surprising amount of attention. (Joel Best)

"Island caught in the grip of gambling" screams the headline. The JEP is at it again:

"There are 29 licensed bookmakers in the Island, compared with up to 12 for areas with a population of 100,000 in the UK. In the UK, bookmakers are more common in the most deprived areas, which have up to 12 per 100,000 people, compared to rich areas which have as few as five. By contrast, affluent Jersey has more than twice as many as the poorest parts of the UK." (1)

But what on earth is a "comparable area"? A land where you can travel around easily, compared to an island, where it is difficult to move across to the UK or France in comparison. In the UK, commuters regularly travel from suburban locations or council estates into city centres or town centres, and they often travel far longer distances than the 9 miles across which is the length of Jersey.

In Jersey, by contrast, there's a degree of localism. People who don't live in town often try and avoid town unless going to work there. They'll shop in the larger out of town supermarkets and shops, and that's why, at St Brelade's, for example, we have one bookmaker at Red Houses and one at Quennevais. There's also a chemist at both locations, and a very large number of garages, and a number of restaurants and hairdressers, and even one barber. In the UK, they'd be spread out more, but over here, there's enough resistance to wanting to drive all the way to town to support those establishments in the West and make them commercially viable.

That's not to belittle the very real problem of addiction to gambling, but the number of bookmakers has no direct correlation with the number of people who gamble when compared with the UK, because of the difference statistically; just finding clusters of 100,000 people does not make them comparable in any way.

In fact, as James Rondel pointed out to me, we have many more garages than a comparable area of 100,00 people in the UK. Does that mean we use more fuel? Of course not, people in the UK who travel by car travel over much longer distances. A twenty mile journey is considered a short distance. But in Jersey, for all kinds of reasons, we have more garages. Most UK garages are self-service, while many Jersey ones have someone who will fill your car for you, and do so regularly, not just on request, but as a standard part of the service.

There's again the localism issue. There's very cheap petrol at Home James and Motor Mart, but if I live in St Brelade's, I might well go to the garage by the airport which has cheap petrol. Alongside it, extraordinary though it is, there is another garage selling petrol, but this time with advantages in discounts for those who have signed up to the discount card. 

It is true that there is also a higher proportion of car owners in Jersey compared to the UK, but the public transport system here tends to exclude the outlying rural districts, or make travel to them more difficult. Part of this is again statistical - more people are clustered outside of urban areas, away from transport links than in the UK.  But each individual car owner almost certainly spends less on fuel on average than a car owner in the UK, who travels longer distances.

But it is something which seems a common statistical outlier for small islands, where a Scottish study looking at proportion of households who had a car or van noted that:

Almost two-thirds of Scottish households came into this category while, for the islands, the figure was almost three-quarters.(2)

In fact, in one island, the figure was even greater. Over 95 per cent of households in Trondra had a car / van. And regards public transport:

Five per cent of islanders travelled to work by train, bus, coach or taxi in 2001, compared with 16 per cent for Scotland. (2)

Another anomaly is churches. Per head of population, we have more churches than many areas of around 100,000 in the UK. But does that mean that Jersey is a more religious place than the UK? I'm sure there are some who would like to think so, but in terms of numbers attending churches, it just isn't so. In the UK, of course, declining numbers have led to churches closing, and the same has happened here. But because in the UK, the greater geographical spread also means that different denominations are more widely spread over the land; in Jersey, if there are different denominations, there are always likely to be more churches in a smaller land area than in the UK. And once you widen the distance people will travel to get to church, the clusters of 100,00 are not actually very comparable after all. There's also history involved; each of the Parishes has their own Anglican church, with a Rector on the Roads Committee, and these are historic buildings in their own right, dating back to Norman times. That's not comparable with the UK as well.
In fact there are a whole plethora of instances in which Jersey has more of a particular place than the UK, going back as far as the Neolithic times - we have an abundance of dolmens compared to what might be picked as a similar 45 square miles of land in the UK. But similarity, of course, is again something which a small island doesn't really have in relation to a much larger island. What happens with small islands is statistical anomalies and outliers.

There are all kinds of these anomalies which make small Islands very unlike the UK, and why there are often really no comparable areas. Another one in the news recently is taxi drivers. It was pointed out that fares tend to be higher in Jersey because you are paying, in part, for the return journey of the cab. In the UK, the density of population means that it is more likely that there will be return fares, so the cab does not return to the depot empty.

A draft paper presented at the 36th Regional Science Association International (British and Irish Section) conference, Jersey, Channel Islands in 2006 made a number of points relating to small islands, and how they differ from larger geographical locations. To my mind, these are far more important and significant that scare headlines in the JEP, because they enable us to grasp more precisely how different islands are, and the unique challenges facing them. It is from this that some of the reasons for the inability to make direct comparisons with the UK on the basis of population follows. The paper notes that:

Small population size, coupled with greater difficulty in gaining access to wider regional and global markets because they are islands, means that the domestic market may be too small for local businesses to attain minimum efficient scale (3)

And one outcome of this was as follows - "to the extent that the businesses seek to serve the local market, local prices will be higher, raising the cost of living for island residents.". It goes on to note that the same problem which besets taxi drivers here - no return fare - also besets freight costs. This is something which the fulfillment industry while it flourished helped to insulate the Island against, but now the sudden demise of most of that will leave a likelihood of a knock on effect on freight services (as seen in the demise of Troys, for example), and increases in prices (as empty vessels cannot offset the costs as well as when they carried freight for the fulfillment industry):

A rarely recognised but important problem faced by many islands is the asymmetric nature of freight flows. Island consumers naturally demand a full array of consumer products. These are typically higher bulk and lower value than the export freight flows (since island exporters seek to overcome the geographical barriers by concentrating on high value, low bulk products, or else on services such as financial services with negligible freight flows). This means that import volumes tend to be much higher than export volumes. With many vehicles returning empty or at less than 100% loads, transport costs are effectively doubled for many islands. (3)

The study also notes that another difference is the presence of capital cities - "capital cities have major economic functions which the vast majority of islands cannot aspire to (i.e. they are extremely unusual 'outliers' in any data set. The presence of large cities which serve as hubs for a working population makes the UK very different from Jersey. It is curious as to why the JEP looks to the UK for comparison, where Guernsey would seem a much more logical choice, but perhaps the statistics would not be quite as alarming and headline grabbing.

(2) Occasional Paper No 10: Statistics for Inhabited Islands". (28 November 2003) General Register Office for Scotland. Edinburgh.
(3) A Comparative Analysis of the Economic Performance of Greek and British Small Islands, Harvey Armstrong, Dimitris Ballas and Adreene Staines, 2006

1 comment:

James said...

In fact, as James Rondel pointed out to me, we have many more garages than a comparable area of 100,00 people in the UK. Does that mean we use more fuel?

Possibly yes (I used to get 40mpg in England and generally get about 32mpg in Jersey, due to the fact the engine never gets to run at peak efficiency).

But if you compare number of pumps, you will probably find numbers per head of population are similar. Cheltenham, population around 100000, has half a dozen large supermarket forecourts (12, sometimes 16 pumps). There is one 12-pump station in Jersey; most of the small stations have 2 or 3 pumps at most.

Stats for gambling in Cheltenham wouldn't be comparable with anywhere - the presence of the racecourse and the annual invasion of the Irish would see to that.