Smaller numbers often mean better stories

We’ve been trying to keep an eye on politicians, particularly in recent months, and point out any dodgy facts or claims.

But politicians don’t just reside in council halls: our police and crime commissioners are also elected and — unless Labour gets a toehold in government and abolishes them — they’re going to be up for re-election sometime soon.

They’re less likely to attempt to be misleading than regular politicians but we still like to keep an eye on them and Staffordshire’s police and crime commissioner’s regime has been guilty of “big number” syndrome: in other words, using a big number because it looks impressive but omitting the context. We use the word regime on purpose, because we’re not blaming anyone and we don’t think Mr Ellis sits there and dictates the release of information; it’s a cultural thing.

Our curiosity was piqued at the end of the last year when Staffordshire Police issued a Press release on Mr Ellis’ Cars Behind Bars campaign, taking uninsured cars off the road.

Obviously, it’s a good campaign: uninsured drivers are a scourge and the antithesis of a responsible society. They deserve to be caught and we have no problem with the cars being seized.

But the Press release said: “In the last 18 months, a total of 73 higher-value uninsured vehicles have been sold off at auction raising almost £50,000, with the proceeds going back into local communities in Staffordshire.”

It’s the kind of thing you should stop and question, so we did. The £50,000 sounds impressive, as it was meant to — it’s a big number.

But it’s raised from 73 cars, which means, when you stop and think, that each car only raised £684. But the Press release calls the vehicles “higher value”, and we wondered why high value cars only made £700 a pop.

So we sent in an FOI request and got the facts behind the £50,000.

First of all, high value: under the police definition, “higher value” is really “any value” — higher value cars are those with a value of “scrap plus”, and refers to cars that are worth more than their scrap value and storage costs combined.

This pretty much answered our query but we also got a list of the seized vehicles and the results are interesting.
Although there were some actual “high value” vehicles in there, the top price went to a Ford Transit van, which sold for £5,150, nearly £1,000 more than the next best vehicle, a Vauxhall Insignia that sold for £4,560.

Knocking off recovery and other costs, the Transit made £4,781 for police funds and the Vauxhall £4,141.
After these two workhorses there were some genuine surprises: some chump went out on a Harley Davidson while not insured, the police selling it for £3,000 at auction (net total for funds, £2,616.2).

Similarly a BMW 3 Series made £2,720 (£2,351) and an Audi A4 £2,660 (£2,241) but after that, next in the list is a Seat Ibiza at £2,500 (£2,231). A Subaru Impreza sold for £1,460 (£1,141.2).

The vast majority of cars were sold for less than £1,000, with even prestige marques making pennies — an Audi A3 sold for £350 (£200) and a Jaguar X Type for £440 (£171).

At couple at the bottom of the list actually lost the police money — A Citroen C5 just about breaks even, a BMW lost £37.80 after costs were deducted and a Zeijang off road bike cost even more, £68.80.

The makes of car seized reflected the car markets, with Ford (mainly Focus) and Vauxhall the top seized vehicles.
Some trailers also lost money though we mention them to warn uninsured drivers — you’ll lose both your car and your trailer. Bearing in mind the cost of vehicles, the trailers were fairly decent, the seven seized selling between £650 and £500.

All this is not going to win us scoop of the year but it’s a shame that someone is going for a headline figure when there are so many good little stories buried in there that would act as a better deterrent in publicity: that top-selling Transit was possibly owned by a trader who lost his work vehicle, the Harley must have a good story behind it and the trailers are warning that it’s not just the vehicle that’s seized.

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