The employment figures attached to large projects tend to be ‘codswallop’, says George Monbiot.

There is no nonsense so gross that it cannot be justified by the creation of jobs. The Ministry of Defence has just announced that it’s spending £13bn of our money – via a fantastically complicated private finance scheme – on a fleet of refuelling planes. Do we need them? Only if we intend to attack another defenceless country. But it’s worthwhile, because the new contract will “create up to 600 jobs at AirTanker Ltd, and will safeguard up to 3,000 jobs directly at British sites, with thousands more sustained indirectly.”(1)

John Hutton claims that new nuclear power stations will generate not only the energy we need, but also 100,000 new jobs(2). When and how? Here or in France? Northumberland County Council has revealed that it is spending £3.6 million on one new roundabout, at Haltwhistle. A staggering waste of public money? No, “it will both attract new jobs to the town and secure existing employment.”(3)

It is true that investment creates employment. But jobs are used to justify anything and everything. If recession strikes, the political value of any scheme which boosts them will rise. Projects which in more prosperous times might have been rejected by planners or ministers will suddenly find favour. Anyone who stands in their way – however daft the schemes may be – will be walloped as an anti-social Luddite.

But the big question is asked very rarely in the press: how reliable are these promises? Whenever a new defence contract or superstore or road or airport is announced, the papers and broadcasters repeat the employment figures without questioning them. They rarely return to the story to discover whether the claims were true.