Friday, June 10, 2016

Gaffe of the week

I am one of those who agree that Andrea Leadsom MP is one of the few figures on either side of the EU referendum debate who up to this afternoon has come through the campaign with her reputation enhanced.

So I was particularly disappointed to see that on twitter this afternoon she repeated the myth that

"The EU's accounts haven't been signed off properly for years."

As I have repeatedly pointed out, most recently here, the EU accounts do contain powerful ammunition which could be accurately quoted to justify campaigning for reform or exit.

But the false statement that the Auditors have not signed off the EU accounts for years should form no part of that ammunition because it is no longer true.

There was a long period when the Auditors refused to sign off the EU books but that period has come to an end and it is indefensible to present it as still being the position of the European Court of Auditors (ECA).

The Auditors themselves say on their website here, which is the page for the 2014 accounts (the most recent available) that

"As independent auditors, the ECA have signed off the 2014 accounts of the European Union, as they have done for every year since 2007."

What this means is that the ECA regard the accounts as having been accurately prepared in accordance with international accounting standards.
However, the European Court of Auditors do have significant criticisms is of the way EU investment and spending is managed, and they say that the "error rate" of spending which is not in accordance with EU rules is too high. And we are talking billions of Euros not properly spent here.

Here are some more quotes from the ECA website page on the 2014 EU accounts.

"In the report, the auditors give a clean opinion on the accounts. They also conclude that the collection of EU revenue was free from error. However, the ECA’s estimated error rate for expenditure was 4.4% (compared with 4.5% in 2013). This is not a measure of fraud, inefficiency or waste; it is an estimate of the money that should not have been paid out because it was not used fully in accordance with EU rules."

"The auditors found the same estimated level of error (4.6%) under shared management with the Member States and for expenditure managed directly by the Commission. The highest levels of error were found in spending under ‘economic, social and territorial cohesion’ (5.7%) and for ‘competitiveness for growth and jobs’ (5.6%). Administrative expenditure had the lowest estimated level of error (0.5%)."

So a "Remainer" who tells you that the European Court of Auditors have given the EU's finances a completely clean bill of health and a "Leave" supporter who tells you that the accounts have not been signed off for twenty years are both wrong. The truth lies between these two positions.
You CAN say that the comments of the Auditors show that large sums of EU taxpayers' money were not properly spent in accordance with EU rules.

You CANNOT, if you mean to be truthful, say that the accounts have not been signed off.


Jim said...

I can agree with your argument that both sides are wrong on this.

and people need to be honest about how they quote things.

Its just when I look back and see that you think its ok to change the measure of for example the deficit is fair.

to me its not fair to say there was a deficit of £x and now its only £x so we have cut it by 1/3. Well ok fair play.

but then to say we have cut it by half in terms of GDP is not. Its in £.

so the question has to stand how much was the deficit in £s at first and how much is it now in £s and I will tell you how much you have cut it by.

Chris Whiteside said...

Understand your point

It's OK to quote a range of measures as long as you are absolutely clear about which one you are quoting.

Saying "The deficit has fallen by a third in absolute terms or by half as a share of GDP" is good practice.

Saying "The deficit has fallen by half as a share of GDP." is acceptable.

Saying "The deficit has fallen by half." in such a way that people are likely to think you mean it has fallen by half in absolute terms, when it hasn't, is open to legitimate criticism.