Select Committee on Treasury Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by Telford and Wrekin Council

  1.  Data on population is for local authorities a key input into service planning. It is also the basis on which a substantial element of government grant is allocated.

  2.  The importance of good quality population data is particularly vital in local areas which are experiencing rapid growth such as Telford & Wrekin. (Telford & Wrekin is one of the 25 fastest growing authorities in the county with population increasing by around 1 per cent per annum).

  3.  Telford & Wrekin (and a number of other fast growing authorities) have had continuing concerns about the accuracy of annual population estimates. The particular concern is that population estimation methodologies have traditionally tended to under-estimate the populations of fast growing areas in those periods between Censuses. This in terms imposes substantial financial penalties on affected committees.

  4.  The Census is, therefore, a very key event, providing as it does the opportunity to validate and reconcile the Office of National Statistics annual Mid Year Estimates.

  5.  Another concern about population data in fast growing areas is that of data drag. Information is always retrospectively calculated. Thus the mid-year estimates for 2001 (based upon the Census data) will not be published until August 2002 and will be the basis of financial allocations for 2003-04. On average the data utilised for local authority funding purposes is over two years out of date.

  6.  In terms of the utility of the Census output, the information is clearly of critical importance to fast growing authorities. Indeed the faster the growth of the locality, the more important the data becomes.

  7.  There are, however, weaknesses in terms of the outputs that the Census is able to provide. These are:

    (a)  A census every 10 years is too infrequent for rapidly growing authorities whose population may have increased 5 per cent, 10 per cent or even more over this period.

    (b)  Rapid growth areas do appear to be potentially at risk of having their population undercounted through the mid-year estimates process.

    (c)  The information provided for local authorities is always retrospective, which in turn financially penalises those faster growing areas.

  8.  In the light of this evidence it is suggested that further consideration needs to be given to:

    —  Ensuring that population data in rapidly growing areas is given particular attention between Censuses to maintain accuracy.

    —  Developing a methodology that enables current rather than retrospective data to be used for national planning and grant distribution purposes.

  Unless these actions are considered, those areas which in practice need most support because of the change they are experiencing will in practice tend rather to be penalised.

30 January 2002

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