by EWAN LAMB
The mystery surrounding the disappearance of hundreds of Borders local government staff from official Scottish Government tables may have been solved following an intervention by statisticians in Edinburgh.
It is important that Scotland's local authorities do not issue inaccurate and misleading information for public consumption. But we recently told you how SBC managed to issue three entirely different figures - 5,700, 6,421, and 6,131 - on the same topic within a matter of a few weeks.
The numbers all relate to the number of employees on the council payroll in the last three months of 2014. The confusing statistics were spotted after the headcount figure of 5,700 was published by the SNP Government on their Public Sector Employment website in March along with information on Scotland's other 31 councils..
But doubts as to the accuracy of the Borders data soon emerged as a vastly different figure had been supplied to a Freedom of Information requester in January 2015. The council's FOI team claimed there were 6,421 paid employees on the books in their response.
Then, within days of the release of those Scottish Government charts officials at SBC provided councillors with a report on Manpower which claimed the actual jobs total was 6,131, a reduction of 70 from the corresponding figure of 6,201 in 2013.
It appeared there was an urgent need for clarification, and after the highly confusing sets of data were referred to the public employee counters in the government's Analytical Services Division, SBC was asked for an explanation so that civil servants might "understand the reasons for any discrepancies in the headcount figures".
Scottish Borders Council has now advised the labour statistics unit that their quarterly returns have, in error, not been including information for casual/relief employees who were paid during the survey reference period. So it seems SBC had no fewer than 1,121 temporary workers on the payroll at the end of 2014, according to the gap between the figure they sent up to Edinburgh and the one they gave to the FOI requester. The number of temps drops to 831 when the figures given to councillors is set alongside the official return.
SBC is now said to be working to produce a revised set of statistics to inform the public sector employment publication. It is understood the council has advised the FOI requester that the 6,421 figure was incorrect and have provided an amended figure.
It seems SBC somehow omitted any reference to casual workers and relief staff when communicating with the Scottish Government, but managed to include hundreds of temps when answering questions from the general public.
The discrepancy in the council's employment statistics could well stretch back all the way to 2010. They told the data collectors in the final quarter of that year they had 5,700 employees. But in a response to anothe FOI request the local authority gave a headcount total of 7,135, suggesting they had 1,435 casual staff working for them at that time.
The Labour Market Statistics team say there is nothing to suggest the equivalent statistics for other Scottish councils might be inaccurate.
"We do rely on councils supplying accurate information and engage regularly with them to that end. For example, in late May we have invited all 32 authorities to take part in a data provider event at which we will discuss the collection of these data and the application of the guidance."