Memorandum by the Statistics Commission
1. This memorandum describes the Statistics
Commission's remit in relation to the 2001 Population Census in
England and Wales and how it plans to fulfil that remit.
2. The Commission expects the National Statistician
and Registrar General to undertake a rigorous review of the Census
himself, and understands his current plans are to do this in stages.
It will be monitoring and reviewing the outputs of the staged
reviews and will decide in the light of these whether it needs
to undertake independent studies of its own. It will offer advice
in the light of these reviews and studies to help ensure that
any lessons for future Censuses or for other work are fully learned.
3. The Statistics Commission was set up
in June 2000 to advise on the quality, quality assurance and priority-setting
for National Statistics, and on the procedures designed to deliver
statistical integrity, to help ensure National Statistics are
trustworthy and responsive to public needs. It is independent
both of Ministers and of the producers of National Statistics.
It operates in a transparent way with the minutes of its meetings,
correspondence and evidence it receives, and advice it gives,
all normally publicly available for scrutiny.
4. It does not collect or disseminate data
itself, but acts as a watchdog for the way the Office for National
Statistics and statisticians in other government departments do
so. Similarly its role is to check that the National Statistician's
quality assurance and stakeholder consultation arrangements are
working effectively, not to usurp his role by undertaking these
tasks for him.
5. The population Censuses are very important
to the Commission. They represent a major and expensive exercise
of crucial importance to a very large and diverse range of users.
They are particularly important for the planning of public services
in a wide variety of areas but also an important source of information
to business and academic users too.
6. The rest of this note focuses on the
England and Wales Census, reflecting both the terms of reference
of the Sub-committee's inquiry and the emphasis of the Commission's
initial considerations so far. The Commission has however a remit
in respect of National Statistics in the devolved administrations
and will be taking a UK wide approach as far as practicable.
7. The Commission expects the National Statistician
to undertake a rigorous post hoc review of the operation of the
Census, complementing the development work leading up to it.
8. The National Statistician has scheduled
a programme of reviews to ensure that each stage of the process
is evaluated and that appropriate information on data quality
can be made available to users.
9. The Commission will be monitoring the
reports of the reviews and looks forward to seeing the first batch
focusing mainly on operational aspects between December 2001 and
March 2002. It will decide in the light of consideration of these
reports and of issues arising, whether it needs to undertake independent
studies of its own.
10. Regardless of whether it decides to
undertake further substantive studies the Commission will assess
the outcome of these reviews. It will offer advice on what needs
to be done to ensure that any lessons are fully learnt, including
whether the issues arising need to be discussed more widely before
firm decisions for the future can be made.
11. The main task will therefore come after
the ONS reviews are made public. The Commission is however preparing
for this task in a number of ways.
12. The Commission's secretariat has had
a number of helpful discussions with the Office for National Statistics
(and will also be approaching other Census Offices) to ensure
that it fully understands the plans for review and will be ready
to examine reports promptly.
13. It has consulted and will continue to
consult various statistics user groups and other informed contacts
within and outside government to establish what issues they see
as important. Issues raised so far have been wide ranging, covering
aspects of the consultation process through to the dissemination
of the Census results. Whilst some of the points may be very specific
to the group/individual concerned, many are of broad relevance.
14. There is one area where the Commission
felt it right to launch a small study of its own in advance of
ONS reviewsto explore public perceptions of the burden
of completing the Census forms
15. Some of the key issues emerging from
the Commission's initial consideration and consultation with users
(a) the success of the one number census
(b) issues relating to nationality and language;
(c) how well the needs of different types
of users (such as local authorities, businesses etc) are met by
the Census. This relates both to the questions and to the dissemination
(d) the overall costs and benefits of the
Census, including the balance between data collected directly
in the Census and those areas for which the Census should provide
a baseline or sampling frame for more detailed work.
This list is not of course comprehensive. Many
other issues have been raised by users and others will no doubt
emerge, particularly as Census results become available.
16. The Commission regards the population
Census as one of the key areas of National Statistics and is already
committed to reviewing it. It would not be appropriate for it
to duplicate the National Statistician's own work, but it is important
that the Commission scrutinises this work carefully and that it
plans to ensure that it is well placed to respond promptly but
with due consideration to the National Statistician's reviews
as they become available.