Footfall – A Triumph of Political Deceit?

Have Visitor numbers really ?
Have Visitor numbers really ?

Footfall – A Triumph of Political Deceit?

Power of Social Media – Since publishing this blog this morning an excellent local journalist has been told by NBC that all of the data used to record footfall is that obtained from the monitoring stations in Abington Street and the Abington Street entrance to the Market Square.

It is now clear that the information I requested is readily available and I look forward to receiving it sometime today.

It has been interesting to read in the local media that according to the Northampton Conservatives the Town Centre Footfall has increased in the first nine months of the current financial year (April – December 2014) by over half a million visitors compared to the same period the year before.

Having written in the past about the need to arrest the decline in the number of visitors that has seen a total drop over the first three years of 2.6 million, it couldn’t be anything but good news.

That is until I looked at the recent data presented by the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday night (11Feb2015) and read about how the number of visitors had exceeded the Council Performance target.

For those who aren’t aware the Council Performance is presented using a traffic light system, Red, Amber and Green where Red represents failing and Green represents the Target was achieved.

Northampton Borough Council have an additional Blue indicator that represents the target has been Exceeded and this is where the data and claims by Cllr Mackintosh starts to ring alarm bells and gets somewhat iffy.

I’m sure people and the media understand that it is essential when making comparisons to compare like with like which in the case of visitors to Northampton that the information is collected from the same points as in previous years.

It is also important when comparing data against targets that the same targets are used if the information is to be believed.

Are claims based on 'Like for Like'?
Are claims based on ‘Like for Like’?

Otherwise that very well-known phrase, “lies, damn lies and statistics” springs to mind.

So why do I question what Cllr Mackintosh is now claiming is evidence of the success of his policies.

Put simply there are ways that performance can be made to appear to have improved, one would be to lower the target in order to move the ‘recorded performance’ from Red to Blue.

Another would be to increase the number of recording points which would effectively double or triple the ‘recorded performance’ by counting the same data two or even three times which in the case of visitors means an individual would be recorded multiple times.

The other method of course which is more difficult would be to work to resolve the underlying problems that led to the problem in the first place, in this case the regeneration of the Town Centre to make it inviting to visitors.

I asked the question last June if the Northampton Conservatives having installed extra monitoring points would be using the data collected from ALL of the points to measure and compare the visitors numbers or would they be honest and only use the two points in Abington Street and the Market Square as before.

I accept it isn’t perfect but at least it is consistent.

The reason I asked was that having installed the additional monitors the Conservatives, until the attempt at deception was revealed, were claiming that in the period between January and March 2014 the footfall was 4 million which when challenged turned out to only be 2.77 million.

Are Northampton Conservatives counting 'Phantom Visitors'?
Are Northampton Conservatives counting ‘Phantom Visitors’?

In anyones language a difference of 1.23 million visitors who it turns out were nothing more than ‘phantom visitors’ is not only dodgy but a downright dishonest smoke and mirrors scam.

I have now written to the Council and applied through a Freedom of Information request for the following information,

Footfall Visitors data from All of the monitoring points and the data from the Abington Street and Market Square monitoring points.

We will then be able to assess whether the claims by Cllr Mackintosh are truthful and valid based on comparisons of like for like.

Which brings me to the issue of targets and the remarkable improvement in visitors to the Northampton Town Centre Performance from RED to BLUE which has raised the suspicions that not all is as it seems.

In simple terms, the target for the period 2011 to 2014, the first three years of the current Council was 15.5 million visitors, the fall over the same period was 2.6 million visitors meaning that Performance was failing and therefore Red.

The target for this year, in an election year is 13 million, a reduction in the target of 2.5 million which coincidentally is the same as the number of people who had stopped visiting Northampton.

To the sound of loud applause from the Northampton Conservatives Cllr Mackintosh announced that the performance is now Blue Exceeding the target.

Some may say this is somewhat disingenuous,

Some may say it’s worse than that.

How reliable are the Conservatives claims?
How reliable are the Conservatives claims?

It is hard to believe that the Northampton Conservatives seriously think people will be taken in by such an obvious attempt at deception.

You do not improve performance by matching the target to the figure you achieve, all you’re doing is masking or even worse accepting and admitting that you have failed.

The number of visitors compared like for like, the performance compared like for like indicates that rather than admit they have failed Cllr Mackintosh would rather change the method of recording and massage the data.

Unfortunately my FOI request has been met with what can only be described as a wall of silence and who knows if the Council do respond the information may well show that like for like the numbers have increased.

I will certainly update this blog once the information is made available, though I think it is unlikely it’ll be received anytime soon.

I may just be being cynical but I’m sorry to say that having asked for the numbers and evidence on other Council performance data and been disappointed at the response I will not be surprised if they claim they don’t have it.

The change of the target is of course already in the public domain?

Experience over the past four years has indicated time and time again that Cllr Mackintosh and the Northampton Conservatives he controls, and be in no doubt he controls the group, cannot be trusted.

It is a facts that when you start to wonder whether you can trust someone or not, that is when you already know you don’t.

I have no confidence that the recently published figures on the number of visitors, like for like, can be trusted.

No amount of double counting, spin, and myths about Northampton Being Back on Track and Improving will convince people to return to the Town Centre

Regrettably, and I expect it will be shown again in future Cabinet and Council reports the Conservatives will wallow in self and mutual congratulations on how they have improved the Town Centre whilst continuing to abjectly fail to address the underlying issues.