A claim by Stourbridge MP Margot James that thousands of new businesses opened locally after she took office in 2010 has been debunked by figures from the Office of National Statistics.
Ms James, re-elected in June 2017 for a third term as the town’s Member of Parliament, caused surprise locally when she claimed that 4,000 new shops had opened in the constituency since she took power in 2010.
Parliamentary records show that the MP then tried to reshape the figure she had given, later quoting a lower but still substantially overblown claim of 2,330 new business start-ups in her 2015 General Election campaign material. (See our infographic here)
Figures published by the Office for National Statistics indicate that only 10 more businesses had been added to her constituency’s total number of enterprises by 2014, compared to 2010.
During a televised Parliamentary debate Ms James told the House of Commons that 4,000 shops had opened in the constituency since her 2010 election victory. The MP was congratulated by the-then Chancellor George Osborne on her success in ‘bringing investment to the Black Country’.
But a number of local constituents questioned her figures, and one pointed out that even if the 4,000 shops were all small ones they would have created a virtual parade of retailers almost eight miles long.
Unusually, the official Hansard parliamentary record of her statement was then redrafted to read ‘4000 businesses in my borough’ – taken to be a reference to the Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council area, a much larger patch that is also served by two other MPs. Ms James’ own website no longer features her original words, as quoted directly from the original Hansard report.
In an apparent response to a reader’s letter in the local Stourbridge News that again questioned her figure, Ms James added a brief apology for the ‘error’ at the end of her regular Letter from Westminster column in the paper. She wrote that she had confused figures for Stourbridge and the whole Dudley Borough area but offered no further explanation.
The MP further puzzled local observers by asking in Parliament on January 7 – six weeks after her original 4000 new shops claim – how many new businesses had opened in her constituency in the past four years.
In response to her written question, Matthew Hancock – the Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills – provided her with an ‘official estimate’ of annual business start-ups for Stourbridge that suggested around 2,300 new businesses opened locally between 2009 and 2013.
But these are not Government figures nor are they about start-ups, according to Hansard.
A footnote in the Hansard record reveals that the figures were supplied by Banksearch*, a small family-run banking industry consultancy. Their figures are an estimate of the number of business bank accounts set up, not new businesses opened.
The figures quoted by Mr Hancock still credited Ms James’ corner of the Dudley borough with well over half of all the ‘4000 new businesses’ now claimed for the area.
But figures on the Office of National Statistics website put the total number of enterprises in Stourbridge at 2,640 in 2010, growing by just ten to 2,650 in 2014. Factory units and shops had grown by five in four years to 3,055 across the constituency, according to the ONS figures.
Margot James website featuring original Hansard 4000 shops claim made on December 3 (now deleted)
Screen capture of Margot James website: view here
Hansard amended transcript via theyworkforyou.com
Margot James question to Matthew Hancock (Min, BIS) on Jan 7
Office of National Statistics – Stourbridge Total enterprises – NOMIS:ONS 2010-2014
This report was compiled by stourbridgevote.org from a variety of sources including theyworkforyou.com and publicwhip.org.uk and the Office of National Statistics