Select Committee on Treasury Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Local Government Association


  1.  The Local Government Association (LGA) is the representative body for all 410 local authorities in England and Wales. Local authorities have always been major users of census data, and the 2001 census is no exception to this. Local authorities will use the data to help to develop local services. Within the current policy context with the duty of local authorities to prepare community strategies guided by the local strategic partnership, good census data will be vital informing local policies and strategies.


  2.  ONS have consulted extensively with a wide range of user, and local government has always been seen as an important sector to gain the views on the development of the census methodology. The formal mechanism for consultation between central and local government is the CLIP (Central and Local Government Information Partnership) Census sub-group which has met regularly to discuss the census content, methodology, and outputs. In addition the LGA has a network of Statistics Liaison Officers in most local authorities in England and Wales and we have used this network to encourage local authorities to respond.

  3.  At times there have been delays in the timetable for different stages of the consultation documents to be produced for users to comment on. However on the whole documents have been distributed to users with plenty of time given to respond. Local authorities appreciated having several weeks to respond to consultations, as often different service departments would need to respond to the statistics liaison officers before a response could be prepared eg education, social services, housing and planning.

Community liaison

  4.  We felt that the community liaison initiative operated by the ONS for the 2001 census was an important development. The LGA worked closely with ONS to encourage local authorities to work closely with local voluntary and community organisations to raise the profile of the importance of the census, and encourage hard-to-reach groups to participate. We hope that all this work will have brought tangible improvements in raising the level of enumeration with these groups.


  5.  Throughout the preparatory stages for the census ONS have held regional roadshows to consult on plans for output. These have been an effective way to have dialogue with users and the LGA has supported this approach throughout. These roadshows have had a mix of users, including many people from local authorities.

One Number Census

  6.  The planning of the 2001 Census includes major innovations to address the concerns of local authorities and others over non-response to the 1991 Census, and the limited treatment of the "missing million" in 1991 Census output. The 2001 Census was followed up by a very large Census Coverage Survey; and all the output will be adjusted in detail for the estimated undercount. ONS have also established a quality assurance process to examine prior to publication any large differences between 2001 Census results and other estimates of population. It is important that users of census material have sufficient information about the operation of One Number Census processes when the first results are published in August/September 2002, so as to be willing to place trust in the figures.

Timetable for Census output

  7.  The proposed timetable for census output meets the requirements, envisaged in 1999, for the coming finance settlements for local authorities with census based estimates of population for mid 2001 published in August/September 2002. These settlements follow an annual cycle, and to make a substantial difference for these processes, the timetable for the delivery of Census results would need to be advanced by about 10 months. This does not seem practicable if the improvement in quality promised by the One Number Census proposals is to be realised.

  8.  It is very important that later adjustments or revision are avoided. Local authorities would prefer information to be delivered on the proposed timetable, rather brought forward if that were to increase the risk of later revisions, such as occurred in 1991.

Census access project

  9.  The LGA was pleased to work with ONS along with other partners (Department of Health on behalf of the NHS; Economic and Research Council on behalf of academics; and the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions (formerly DETR) on behalf of central Government departments) on the Census Access Project. This successful Invest to Save Bid to the Treasury allowed a partnership approach to provide additional funding to improve the quality and quantity of census outputs. This approach broadly provides access to standard census output via the ONS website together with analysis and mapping tools, free to end users. We believe that this is a real advance in the 2001 census and provides more data to more users through the free access of the internet.


  The comments in this section are based on our perceptions of how the national census operated.

  10.  The methodology for the 2001 census was fundamentally different with census forms being posted back to the post office rather than collected by enumerators. The rationale for this approach was to provide more enumerators to target hard-to-reach groups. It will be interesting to see the difference this approach has made to the overall enumeration levels in the areas identified by ONS as being difficult areas. The census coverage survey is expected to provide a clearer picture of this and allow adjustment into the One Number Census.

  11.  There are questions about whether the field staff recruited by ONS to be enumerators were adequately trained. One of the issues is that neither enumerators nor census areas managers were paid very well for such an important task. We also suggested to ONS that it would be good to carry out a sample survey of field staff after the census was carried out to get feedback from field staff on their experiences, and to learn from this in the future.


  12.  We have mentioned the Census Access Project above as being a really positive outcome from the current work on the 2001 Census. There have also been other positive areas of work.

  13.  Many local authorities have made extensive comments on the format of the outputs of census data at different geographical areas—local authority, ward and census output areas. On the whole this has been a positive approach and has resulted in a much larger volume of outputs being made available as standard tables. This is to be welcomed and it shows that ONS have taken on board the comments of a wide range of local authority users.

  14.  We also believe that there is a very real merit in seeing that census outputs will become one of the major data sources of the new Neighbourhood Statistics Service. The LGA has long been an advocate of the belief that we need to get a whole range of data down to the neighbourhood level—the census outputs will add real depth to the existing Neighbourhood Statistics Service data.

  15.  Another welcome innovation is the creation of a specific geography for the finest grain of census output. The quarter of a million census output areas will provide an extremely detailed framework. The provision of mapping tools to support the display of information at this level is a highly valued part of the plans for census output.


  16.  The timetable and other arrangements dependent on post back must be reviewed, in the light of the variable service provided by the Royal Mail across the country, as ONS have acknowledged.

  17.  More information needs to be sought in advance from administrative systems about likely difficulties in fieldwork. For example, in identifying areas with large numbers of vacant properties and second homes, where non-response may be expected (but need to be verified) because there is no person at the property eligible to respond. The development of Neighbourhood Statistics will help in providing such information.

  18.  Many of the lessons (including successes) about census output can only be considered after the results have been delivered, and applied by local authorities and others. We are hopeful that all the innovations in output will aid a wider range of activities than previously.

November 2001

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