Business

Treasury spending chart criticised by statistics body

Prime Minister David Cameron with residents and emergency workers in Yalding, Kent Image copyright AFP
Image caption The chart appeared to show a much larger investment in flood defences

The UK Statistics Authority has criticised the Treasury over a chart it produced showing the scale of investment in infrastructure.

The authority said the chart could give a "false impression" of the relative size of investment in areas such as flood defences.

The chart, released alongside the Autumn Statement, appeared to show a more even spread across sectors.

The government has denied attempting to mislead the public.

The chart, which was included in the National Infrastructure Plan, displayed investment in a range of areas, from waste and intellectual capital, to transport and floods.

It used a logarithmic scale, where gaps between £1m, £10m, £100m, £1bn, £10bn and £100bn were each represented by increments of the same size.

Image copyright HM Treasury
Image caption The UK Statistics Authority said the logarithmic scale gave a "false impression"

UK Statistics Authority chairman, Sir Andrew Dilnot, was concerned that the relative sizes of the bars on the chart gave the wrong impression of the scale of spending.

The chart showed transport and energy projects had the most money spent on them, and the scaling appeared to show flood defences getting at least half as much funding as those two sectors.

However, the raw data shows flood projects are due to receive less than 2% of the amount being spent on energy infrastructure.

There was a written explanation in the text that accompanied the chart. But in a letter to Labour's Treasury spokesman Chris Leslie, who first raised concerns, Sir Andrew said: "My view is that the chart could leave readers with a false impression of the relative size of investment between sectors."

Image copyright UK Statistics Authority
Image caption An alternative representation of the figures, from the UK Statistics Authority

In the letter, Sir Andrew enclosed an alternative representation of the figures, prepared by the statistics authority, showing a much starker contrast between the different investment levels.

Mr Leslie said the case was the latest in the government's "track record of trying to pull the wool over people's eyes".

In 2012, the statistics watchdog corrected David Cameron over a claim that NHS spending had risen in real terms, while last year it said the Prime Minister was wrong to say the government was paying down Britain's debts.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister denied the chart was an attempt to mislead the public, adding: "The figures and charts set out in that plan are the right ones."

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