THERE are, as we all know, lies, damned lies and statistics – the aphorism is most frequently attributed to Benjamin Disraeli and was popularised by Mark Twain, who of course had a pretty sharp wit in his own write.
Many of us are sceptical to the point of cynicism and we tend not to believe the statistical assertions beloved of politicians, pundits and anyone with a new solution to the world’s problems or a cure for the ills that plague us.
Eight Out Of Ten Cats may prefer Whiskas – or a well-known Channel 4 comedy show – and given an infinite number of monkeys and keyboards, with or without the help of Professor Brian Cox and his partner in the cage, Robin Ince, they might eventually write one or more of Shakespeare’s plays.
Statistically it is also possible that at this moment in time, somewhere in the infinity of the universe, another being is thinking these same thoughts.
It is also possible to prove with statistics that everyone in Britain is 5ft 6ins because that’s the mean between the normal average height of a human being and the average person of short stature. I have no idea – I just made it up. But it’s as plausible as any other statistic because if you base your arguments on “the average” you are bound to end up with a spurious result. If five people are strict vegans, five are omnivores and five only eat meat, you might conclude numerically that everyone is an omnivore.
And of course, as playwright Tom Stoppard proves, hilariously and mathematically, in Jumpers, St Sebastian died of fright, not because people shot arrows at him.
All of which is to say, you probably feel you can’t trust statistics.
But there is one set of statistics that is worth considering and repeating – and that is the figures that demonstrate the value in cash terms to the local economy of supporting locally owned and independent businesses, rather than corporations, high street chains, supermarkets or out-of-town warehouses.
It is known as the Local Multiplier Effect, and it shows the value to the local economy of the pound you spend with an independent or locally owned shop or business compared to the same amount spent with a multiple or multi-national. The factors that contribute to the statistics include the proportion of profits taken out of the business (for share-holders, pensions, bonuses, reinvestment, expansion elsewhere, etc), the number of locally recruited employees, their salaries, the amount of business done with local suppliers or traders, and the contribution that the business makes to the local community in terms of membership of organisations (eg business association or chamber of commerce).
Less tangible in terms of cash are the social or environmental benefits – local owners are more likely to maintain an attractive and individual shop or business facade, contribute to local events by sponsorship or allowing staff to take part, and encourage loyalty through local discounts and offers.
Entrepreneurship fuels innovation and many successful small businesses have grown out of imaginative rural diversification.
The figures, roughly, show that for every £10 you spend in a supermarket or chain, £14 goes back into the local economy, whereas with a local business or shop, the figure will be about £25.
In terms of local reinvestment value, one American website (www.yesmagazine.org) suggests that there is a three-fold difference between money spent locally – 45 cents per dollar – or with corporate chainsreinvestment – 15 cents per dollar.
There are various organisations and campaigning groups making the case that keeping as much of your spending local as you can will help your town and your region. Visit the New Economics Foundation website – www.neweconomics.org.
Another quantifiable benefit of doing business locally is cutting fuel costs and helping the environment by reduced car use.
One of our favourite farm shops demonstrates all of these features – from a small family farm it has become one of the country’s top farm shops, with an award-winning fish counter (itself a small independent business), a popular cafe and children’s play area. It also supports new and artisan producers, giving them shelf space where loyal customers – who trust the proprietors’ taste and judgement – will try something new. They also provide space for new producers to offer tastings – a sure way to get new business.
We bought the most wonderful organic, forest-grown coffee there last weekend, after being tempted to try a small cup. It’s a win-win. We know the shop carries the best fresh local vegetables and meat – much of it reared on the farm. We know that the prices and special offers are always genuine. And we know that the quality of the goods stocked is consistent and reliable. And most of it is local – from Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire.
They have a good business. The customers are satisfied. Result.
PS – It’s Whiterow Farm Shop at Beckington near Frome; and the coffee comes from Bird & Wild (look out for a feature on our food pages soon).