Two weeks ago, on 23 April 2014, Scottish Land and Estates (the body that represents some of Scotland’s landowners) held its Spring conference at which it published a report on the economic contribution of estates in Scotland. (1) A week before that, on 16 April, it issued a Press Release headlined “New Research Reveals Significant Annual Investment on Tenanted Farms and Crofts by Estates”
It included the results from 143 estates surveyed that were involved in renting land for farming and stated that these had, on average, 11 tenants per estate covering, on average, 221 hectares. Total annual expenditure on agricultural and crofting tenancies amounted to £10.8 million, primarily on repairs and capital costs, equating to £26.58 per hectare and an average total annual expenditure per estate of £69,145. Average income amounted to £101,422.
Douglas McAdam, the Chief Executive of SLE said that,
“The figures clearly demonstrate that there is significant investment by estates and our members are willing to invest further if we can create a stable climate that encourages investment. These are averages and investment does of course vary …. However, we are being told by members who do invest substantially that their continuing commitment is being jeopardised by the re-emergence of a potential absolute right to buy for tenants.”
It was clear that SLE wished to emphasise a) how much estates were investing and b) that possible land reform would jeopardise this in the future.
So it was with some interest that when I came to read the relevant section of the Economic Assessment report (4.2.2 pg. 39) and saw these figures, I also read a note of caution. The authors of the report write that, “It should, however, be stressed that the overall average values are very heavily influenced by the large and very large estates and the median figures for average income and investment are significantly lower.” (2)
Today, SLE published a series of videos of the various presentations given at its conference. Among them was one given by Rob Hindle (on YouTube here) who was the lead researcher for the economic study. (3) In a couple of slides (around 40min in) he describes the caveats on using economic figures including that the sample is “weighted towards larger estates”, that users should “be confident in the report but use with care” and that the “median is more representative of the sample”.
In particular, he warns that, “the mean average [is] significantly skewed by the bigger numbers at one end of the spectrum – so don’t do it – it’s not helpful. You need to start looking for the middle point but be aware even so that the middle point ..there are very big differences between the numbers at one end and the numbers at the other end so the middle point is again to be treated with caution”
So what are the median values?
They are not published in the report. But I spoke to someone who was at the conference who remembered seeing a slide that had shown the difference – the “significantly lower” figures – contrasted in blue and red as an example of why the “median is more representative of the sample”. So I looked for this slide in SLE’s video.
It’s not there.
Did my friend mis-remember? I phoned him up and asked. “No, definitely – it was there. The difference was very stark – not just for tenancy figures but other expenditures as well.”
“How stark?”, I asked.
“I don’t remember exactly – much lower though – less than a quarter – even less I think in some cases.”
In the video there is one slide (at around 40min) that shows the differences for some of the data. The median number of tenants is 3 compared with a mean of 11, for example. But there’s no information on expenditure and revenue figures.
So was this information in the presentation given at the conference? If it was, why does it not appear in the video presentation?
Maybe it doesn’t really matter. What is important is that SLE misrepresented the levels of investment in its press release by picking the “mean” figure when it knew that the median was more appropriate.
I have contacted the researchers and asked if they could send me a copy of the presentation. They may, of course need to ask the permission of their client, SLE, who commissioned the report. I will keep folk posted on what transpires.
(1) I should emphasise that the report is an excellent report and I plan to blog at greater length on its findings.
(2) the mean of a sample is the total of all the values divided by the number of values. The median is the middle value in a distribution of values. So, for example in a town with 100 houses where 99 were worth £100 each and one was worth £1 million, the mean would be £10,099 (1,009,900 divided by 100). But describing the average house price in town as being £10,999 is obviously misleading. In a skewed distribution, the median is more useful and in this case is £100 (the middle value when all values are lined up from smallest to largest) – in this case a far better representation of the average or typical price of a house.
(3) I have downloaded a copy of the video for reference.
The online poll in the scottish farmer told its own story, when asked “do you believe the SLE figures, ” the answer was NO, by 100% of respondents.
I know my landlord has spent zero here in the last 15 years, while i have invested a fortune.
The report is actually very interesting and I plan to blog on it at greater length soon. The researchers have done a good job. I doubt any of those responding to Scottish Farmer poll had actually read it!
Andy, tenant farmers didnt need to read it, they know all too well that lairds put sweet f a into tenanted farms. Some landlords do repairs, when they get round to it, but new investment? not a chance.
Even if a laird puts up a new shed, the tenant will have give up a cottage or similiar , and pay for it through higher rent, for something they will never own.
Not investing or repairing is of course part of that grinding process that factors have down to a fine art. Grinding the tenant down till either he goes bust, loses heart, or both.
A nice bit of forensic analysis. Good luck with the missing slide and/or data but I wouldn’t hold your breath!
SLE also kind of misses the point: we *want* their investment to fall to zero on various parcels of land as the inevitable consequence of giving other people (and more of them) a chance to own & invest.
Not having watched the video i wouldn’t know but is it possible to calculate from the rest of the information if enough of it is there? Pretty sneaky, but what’s new about that.
I remember another wee snippet of advice from Hakon Bjarnasson of the Icelandic Forest Service, admittedly in relation to trees, but perhaps of wider application: ‘ average ( mean ) conditions seldom kill anything’
Could this be a ” dodgy dossier ” about to unfold , aided and abetted by Scottish Land and Estates as a propaganda exercise to make the Scottish Government think that landlords invest heavily in their tenanted estates ? . I do not see much investment . All we want is the truth .
Andy, have you changed this blog since you originally wrote it? I don’t recall note (1) (“I should emphasise that the report is an excellent report …”) and the penultimate paragraph (“Maybe it doesn’t really matter.”) seems a wee bit different from the original. Could be wrong though.
Yes – added Footnote and made a few other minor edits soon after it went up.
Broadly sympathic and a fan of your work…
… But can’t help noticing the irony of your post pulling them up on maths & statistics (misuse thereof) immediately after your previous post’s use of centiles 😉
Centiles? It used deciles.
Ok, same point. Deciles are just groups of ten centiles…
I wish to respond to the claims made in your blog on Friday.
My company was responsible for filming the event and producing the videos of the conference presentations. We were provided with the full presentations for all the presenters by Scottish Land & Estates. The videos we produced cover the slides presented on the day – from a film producers point of view this means that any skipped slides (ie where the presenter simply double clicked on a slide and went straight onto the next one) do not appear in the videos. This includes slide 42 of the presentation given by Rob Hindle referred to in your blog. The slide did appear on the screen for a nanosecond but I made the decision that it was to be treated as a skipped slide. This was a video production decision which took place without any input from SLE. As i was not concerned with the content of the slide and totally unaware of people’s interest in that one slide out of all the slides covered, i did not realise that this was an issue. I certainly did not think it would become the subject of a blog!
I am aware that attendees were advised at the start of the day, and during the presentations that all the slides were available from SLE.
Blogs are made when folk knowingly misrepresent data and then the key slide disappears from a presentation they are responsible for publishing.
It was brought to my attention that in your blog on Friday you made some accusations against SL&E. I am glad to see you have edited and now removed these. Clearly the post above shows that they were false and baseless accusations. Your “friend” who attended our Conference will get the full pack of slides of all presentations, including those skipped by the presenters, along with all other attendees in due course. Of course the easy thing to do would have been to pick up the phone and ask us for the slides – we have already sent them out to other people who did just that. Also as you quoted me in your blog, you might wish to actually include the full quote from an early media release a few weeks before the Conference as you left half of it out:
“The figures clearly demonstrate that there is significant investment by estates and our members are willing to invest further if we can create a stable climate that encourages investment. These are averages and investment does of course vary and whilst lower investment exists on some holdings – and the reasons for this need to be studied – it is clear from the survey that it is normal practice amongst many landowners to invest a very substantial proportion of their rental income back into farms.”
I originally said that “SLE appear to have removed a slide from the presentation” It now turns out this is true. As the publisher of the presentation, you are responsible for the removal however it might have come about. I don’t buy the nanosecond line I’m afraid. Anyway, I have asked the researchers for a copy of the presentation and look forward to receiving it in due course. Meanwhile, on the substantive point, why did you issue a press release with average figures when you knew these were misleading?
For clarity this is what you posted originally Andy.
“So, it appears that SLE have removed this slide from the published presentation given at the conference.
Not only, therefore, did SLE seek to misrepresent the levels of investment in its press release by picking the unrepresentative “mean” figure but it appears to have intentionally removed the slide that showed the critical difference from the presentation of the lead researcher of the report.”
Indeed. And in fact that all turns out to be true. SLE has removed the slide from the published presentation. You can try and pin the blame on the video guy but SLE is the publisher and is responsible for fact that the published presentation omits this slide. When will SLE publish the full presentation so we can see what the difference is between the median and the mean?
Andy, why did you publish a blog saying:-
“The Duke of Westminster owns 37,303 hectares of eligible land and could be eligible for £764,712 of public assistance for each of the next six years.”
when you knew that to be misleading?
Because it is not misleading. But as you know we had that conversation on that blog. This one is about means and medians. No more whataboutery please.
No, this blog is titled “Means and Medians” but what it’s *about* is people who make statements that are technically true but, when seen in full context, are misleading.
Your Westminster claim fits that description precisely. You might as well have said the D of W could win the Eurovision Song Contest in the next six years and defend that by saying it’s theoretically possible.
I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you were just mistaken about the Westminster eligibility for post CAP reform subsidy (as evidenced by your also having been mistaken about the Maktoum farming at Inverinate) but the most unfortunate feature is that journalists like David Ross of the Herald are repeating your claims uncritically.
No more deny, deny and deny againery please.
I stand by all the claims I made regardless of the allegations you may wish to make. As I stated previously, if you wish to comment on them further, please do so on that blog.
So are you now also accusing SL&E of instructing Rob Hindle to skip the slide? If it appeared for a “nanosecond” why did SL&E not remove it altogether, pre the presentation?
“The videos we produced cover the slides presented on the day – from a film producers point of view this means that any skipped slides (ie where the presenter simply double clicked on a slide and went straight onto the next one) do not appear in the videos. This includes slide 42 of the presentation given by Rob Hindle referred to in your blog. The slide did appear on the screen for a nanosecond but I made the decision that it was to be treated as a skipped slide. This was a video production decision which took place without any input from SLE.”
In answer to your questions. 1) No. 2) I don’t know. I look forward to seeing this infamous Slide 42 soon.
I have just found out that you are a director of S L and E . Did you see the slide show at the Spring Conference . If so , did you see the ” missing slide ” ?.
No I didn’t Wendy. Lambing precluded my attendance at the Spring Conference. As Doug McAdam our CEO has already posted above, if you are interested to see the slide which so exercises Andy, just contact SL&E Headquarters.
Andy, when you say you “don’t buy the nanosecond line”, are you saying that Lewis Notarangelo (“the video guy”) is not telling the truth?
There is conflicting evidence and some interesting choreography going on.
That’s not an answer to my question. I’ll rephrase it: “Are you saying that Lewis Notarangelo’s explanation of the omission of the slide from the video given in his comment above (May 12, 2014 at 9:28 pm) is not truthful?”
I am making no claims either way and refer you to my previous answer.
Apart from your claim that you “don’t buy the nanosecond line”, of course.
What is the evidence that conflicts with Lewis Notarangelo’s explanation above.
Evidence I do not intend to share in public at this stage – from a source whose identity I am keen to protect.
thought you’d be interested to know that all presentations are being reloaded to include any slides skipped by the presenters.
have no idea what evidence you are referring to above as no secrecy going on and we refute again the accusation that we ‘intentionally removed the slide’ – powerpoint presentation in full was already being distributed prior to the video going up on Friday.
happy to oblige with your request today for the presentation – would have provided this on the day of the conference or anytime afterwards if only you had just asked.
A mole in SL&E? How thrilling! Except that, while you revel in your conspiracy theories, the professional reputation of the poor old “video guy” remains tainted by your “I don’t buy the nanosecond line” claim with no opportunity to respond to the evidence against him.
As he is almost certainly innocent of any wrongdoing in any of this, could I suggest the fairest thing in the circumstances might be for you to remove all comments (including this one) relating to Lewis Notarangelo’s involvement and reactions thereto and leave a note saying it’s a matter purely between the principal protagonists, namely, you (Andy), the authors of the report and SL&E.
You might also wish to ponder on the hollowness of your “I’m making no claims either way” comment in light of the fact that you claimed (above – May 13, 2014 at 10:13 am) that SL&E were trying to “pin the blame on the video guy”. Point me to where they did that??
“As he is almost certainly innocent of any wrongdoing in any of this”
Are you claiming he could be guilty?
No moles or conspiracy theories I’m afraid. If only life were that “thrilling”. Your ongoing advice is much appreciated.
Oh dear, the exchanges on this subject are getting a bit like some of the Scottish independence debate – tetchy, focussing on the minutiae of who said or did what on a point of detail, and straying away from the big picture. No doubt each participant could (will) tell me why this is important but I look forward to the resumption of normal service!