Finance and the fact of the matter....

FACTS are wriggly things. Those who think there can only be one interpretation of a fact are very wrong - and that's an incontrovertible fact.Take last week's news about Royal Dutch Shell's �22bn profits for 2008.

FACTS are wriggly things. Those who think there can only be one interpretation of a fact are very wrong - and that's an incontrovertible fact.

Take last week's news about Royal Dutch Shell's �22bn profits for 2008.

Shell is one of the Bacton gas site operators. It was in their waste-water treatment plant that the explosion and fire happened a year ago this month, leaving all of us feeling a bit nervous and jumpy.

A week after that dramatic evening, we reported that the inquiry into it was not complete and: 'Shell has refused to speculate on the cause of the blaze or give details of the amount of damage it did until the investigation has finished.'


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I can't recall hearing that they've announced those findings yet, can you?

When I first heard about Shell's profits, reported on the BBC last Thursday, the angle was that the total was 14pc up on the previous year and represented a UK corporate record.

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But when I read the same story in our sister paper, the Eastern Daily Press, my heart bled: 'Final quarter profits have fallen at Shell' said the headline.

Apparently the impact of falling oil prices resulted in those final-quarter profits only being �3.35bn, against �7.7bn in the third quarter.

Even I, with my lentil-sized understanding of how big business works, realise that a global fuel company needs to make mega investments.

But �22bn is a staggering sum and my acceptance of Shell's need for tons of investment cash was more than a little quashed by the EDP's concluding remark: '…investors were cheered by an 11pc increase in fourth-quarter dividends.'

Not so cheered, I imagine, are many of the people living on the doorstep of the Bacton gas site.

I've been looking at a report entitled Deprivation in Rural Norfolk which included a section on Bacton and Walcott.

The Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion study, dated December 2006, was commissioned by the Norfolk Rural Community Council on behalf of Norfolk Investing in Communities partnership.

It's full of detailed statistics, gleaned from sources including the 2001 census, charting such things as how many people work, what proportion are on low incomes, levels of education and skills, types of household, and some health data. The statistics are compared with those for Norfolk and the East of England.

Using some fairly complicated methodology, the report concludes: '…there are extremely deprived areas in Bacton-Walcott with 1,074 people (78.7pc of the population) living in areas identified as among the most deprived 20pc in the region.'

So there you have it: a company which has just declared the highest-ever recorded profits in the UK running a high-risk operation in a parish deemed to be one of the most deprived in the region.

I'm not saying nuffin'. I'm just giving you the facts.

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