The Gross Is Greener

As it has been doing for a number of years, BOS has published its “Quality of Life” List just before Christmas. This rates council areas in Scotland by seventeen parameters, grouped in a half-dozen classes that they believe relate to measuring the quality of life in a given area. We’ll consider the validity of that later but first let’s examine what they came up with. As BoS themselves put it:

“The Quality of Life index aims to quantify where living standards are highest in Scotland by ranking local performance across a range of indicators, including the labour market, the housing market, the environment, education and health.”

There are minor changes in position in those in the ‘top ten’ but no major surprises, as compared to last year; indeed the bulk of the councils in the top ten are pretty much the same over the last few years, with Scottish Borders and Moray drifting out (the latter hit by RAF base closures) to be replaced  by West Lothian and Fife. The top ten for the last three years are shown in Table 1 below.

Table 1—Top Ten in Scotland for Quality of Life (source: Lloyds Banking Group)

Table 1—Top Ten in Scotland for Quality of Life (source: Lloyds Banking Group)

But those wishing to use this as an guide where to live should consider both major omissions and unstated selfish interest that cast some doubt on both BoS’s arithmetic and its quantisation.

A similar study done over the UK by Lloyds (BoS now being part of Lloyds Banking Group) ranks ‘desirable areas’ across the UK by pretty much the same criteria. In this case, Hart (near Fleet in Hampshire) tops the poll—indeed the only areas outside the Home Counties were Wychavon, Worcestershire; Rushcliffe, Nottinghamshire; Rutland; and North Kesteven in Lincolnshire. Nowhere in the north of England, NI, Scotland or Wales managed to make this exclusive top-50 list.

Hold on—does that mean SE England enjoys a higher quality of life than anywhere else? I’ve been there. Pretty and cultured as parts are, it’s something of a zoo from which many people have escaped to places like Scotland. It might pay to examine this story and its conclusions in more detail.

Because we’re not comparing apples to apples. Hampshire is the biggest English non-metropolitan county, boasting a population around 1.7m in an area of 3,700 sq. km. But it is barely half the size of Aberdeenshire’s 6,313 sq. km. whose 232,000 people are clearly not nearly as crowded  (by a factor of ten). This also means that the larger area clearly will contain a broader mix, with Hart’s 213 sq. km. holding just one strata of society and a station car park “that looks like a BMW dealership“.

Indeed, all of the top-rated English districts are small, comparable in size to Hart, and home to under 100,000 people. The BoS evaluation ignores the density and hectic associated with even supposedly rural areas of England’s Home Counties. Most of the demographic maps of traffic congestion are based on journeys per resident and so Perth comes out as bad as Petersfield because it has the A9 running through. But sheer traffic volumes and associated congestion are the bane of England’s South-East. Why were these not considered in the study? The top ten places in England are components of traffic statistics given in Table 2.

Table 2—Traffic Statistics for English Counties Covering QoL Top-Rated Places

Table 2—Traffic Statistics for English Counties Home to QoL Top-Rated Places (Source: Dept for Transport)

The figures (in thousand vehicle-miles) show pretty consistent heavy traffic, still  growing at over 6% in ten years and accidents that, while improving, add up to some pretty serious carnage. The equivalent statistics for the top ten for Scotland are shown in Table 3 below.

Table 3—Traffic and Accident Statistics for Scotland's Top QoL Places

Table 3—Traffic and Accident Statistics for Scotland’s Top QoL Places

While geographic areas covered differ some between Tables 2 & 3, it’s not a major factor. And though Scotland’s traffic may be growing at almost twice the rate of England, it is from such a small base that it’s still barely a tenth the size, with comparable differences in accidents. You are left with stark statistics implying that the ‘top’ quality of life locations in England are far more congested and dangerous, a key issue that shows up nowhere in BoS’s ratings.

Things get worse when we broaden our view beyond the UK into Europe (I know this brings on a barf reflex in most Tory readers, but bear with me). The EU makes a point on surveying its own take on quality of life across the continent and comparing results among member countries. This again makes for interesting reading. It is not possible to reproduce all 125 questions but the trend where the UK did poorly in comparison to other members—especially Denmark and Finland—was stark.

Chart 1—Frequency That Family Responsibilities Intrude to the Detriment of Career

Chart 1—Frequency That Family Responsibilities Intrude to the Detriment of Career

While UK residents are not as torn as others, they still come in over 40% with this problem, while Danes and Finns are more tranquil—closer to 25%.

Chart 2—Number of Times Respondents Felt Stress from Conflicting Priorities

Chart 2—Number of Times Respondents Felt Stress from Conflicting Priorities

Again Danes and Finns come out well with over 50% feeling no stress, while the Brits can’t manage a 40% level. There is clearly a pinch of salt to be taken with any conclusion drawn over multiple cultures like this. But the qualitative feel: that the British are over-worked, suffer more stress and have a poorer overall quality of life compared to their neighbours is inescapable.

Which brings us back to the questionable nature of BoS’s results. Rather than measure genuine quality of life, the parameters they measure have an agenda. While some of them (weather, crime, health, life expectancy) are entirely valid, the rest (weekly earnings, house prices, number of rooms in house) are a yuppy wet dream. They expose BoS’s real motivation—shifting expensive houses to the highest bidder, which is rather shabby. It is, effectively, ammunition for an estate agent’s pitch.

While this is neither illegal nor unexpected, it rather undercuts their high-minded statement printed at the top of this blog. Had they titled this “How the already Rich and Lucky can get even Richer and Luckier”, it would at least have been honest. They want you to trade up: to see the gross is always greener elsewhere.

Because you will indeed make more money buying a house in Hart or Elmbridge (only if you’re already rich enough to afford it). But, as you struggle with traffic on the B3016, inching your Beemer towards Winchfield station or the M3, think about tranquil Turriff or laid-back Lerwick in a Zen attempt to bring its genuine quality of life into the hectic of your own.

About davidsberry

Local councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Stood for the Scottish Parliament 2011; lost by 151 votes.
This entry was posted in Commerce, Community, Environment and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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