‘A few Christmas crackers from our city council’ Brighton News

It’s these kinds of questions you might get asked in a cracker. Is that why we pull 300,000,000 of them round the Christmas dinner table every year – to keep the conversation going with our least favourite aunt?

There’ll be more numbers coming, so if you’re at all arithmophobic, look away now – some of them are rather frightening. But it’s Christmas, we’re feeling generous, so let’s pull another John Lewis cracker – a mere £40 – put on our party hats and see what jokes and facts fall out.

Maths was not my favourite subject at school. At 11 I could probably spell diarrhoea, but fractions were a challenge. Little did I know at primary school that I’d find myself in later years on the finance committee spending lots of my time number-gazing.

Here’s a fun puzzle from my wife who does have a head for figures.

You’re trying to explain to your sceptical date that coin flips are random – out of ten flips the coin lands on heads seven times. What’s the explanation? A) I’m head over heels in love with you B) it’s my secret skill – I trained for 37 months C) randomness is random – it can under and overshoot D) all are good answers.

If only council numbers were as fun. Here are figures for you to think about from a recent committee I attended. I doubt they’ll surprise you. The puzzle here is, why aren’t these figures improving?

Cracker number 1: 59 per cent of residents are satisfied with the service they received from the council. The national benchmark is 60 per cent. Not exactly the figures any private company would be proud of. Of course, residents are not customers. The council provides a wide range of services to sometimes very unhappy residents. But don’t you agree that 60 per cent is a bit mediocre as an aim? If the council is already almost at it, why try harder? If the target was higher, maybe they’d extend the phone lines from the meagre 9.30am and 1.30pm it is at present.

Cracker number 2: is your rubbish and recycling being collected on time? Has it improved since the damning report into Cityclean? I doubt it. 28.1 per cent of household waste was recycled. The target is 35.6 per cent. The figure is actually falling. The national rate is 44 per cent. 596 kerbside or recycling collections per 100,000 were missed. It is improving, but it was 512 in 2020/21. And we know other councils do a much better job. Why can’t we?

Here’s another cracker. I get floods of emails about council house repairs – from damp spreading like a deadly fungus to leaky roofs and shocking wiring. No wonder – only 46 per cent of routine council housing repairs were completed on time. In 2020/21 it was 70 per cent. Labour insourced council house repairs – has the service got better? I’ll let you answer that.

And the final cracker. It’s not only Labour councillors that we can’t locate – it’s missing council house rent too. 93.6 per cent of rent is forecast to be collected from current tenants of council-owned homes, down from 96.4 per cent in 2020/21. That’s £4 million not being collected. This could be a sign of hardship – let’s check on our neighbours this Christmas.

So, are meek and mild people more likely to be farmers or librarians? It’s farmers. Why? Because there are many more of them, around 103,000, than librarians, around 47,000. Although there’s only one Jeremy Clarkson.

As your host I’m supposed to be entertaining you. Here’s one last cracker.

That rich aunt you’re chatting with – she’s 93 and taking herself on a cruise. After three sherries she decides to try Fugu fish – it has enough poison to kill 30 aunts. Her chance of a fatal poisoning is two per cent each time. How many days on a cruise ship does she need, with average luck, to make you rich with inheritance if an antidote is 50 per cent effective? A) 25 B) 79 or C) 100. I hear you Googling tours round the Mediterranean. Answers on a postcard.

Each term I show my students a fun website, Spurious Correlations. Look it up. You know the difference between correlation and causation, but according to this website, the number of drownings in pools goes up and down along with the number of Nicholas Cage movies. Divorce rates go up and down according to the consumption of margarine. Here’s a less spurious correlation – the minute Labour gets into power the number of by-elections and independents always seems to rise.

Alistair McNair is leader of the Conservatives on Brighton and Hove City Council

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This notice was published: 2023-12-16 05:56:00

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