Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
21 FEBRUARY 2007
Q20 Chairman: Welcome back to the Sub-Committee.
Could you introduce yourself and your colleagues formally, please.
Ms Dunnell: Yes. I am Karen Dunnell,
the National Statistician and Registrar General for England and
Wales. This is Jil Matheson, the Executive Director in ONS for
Census Demography and Regional Statistics, and this is Ian Cope
who is the Director of the 2011 census.
Q21 Chairman: The last census cost
us a quarter of a billion pounds: £250 million. What is this
one going to cost?
Ms Dunnell: At the moment this
is all part of our preparations and planning that we are putting
forward for the next spending review. Until that process is gone
through, we cannot say exactly what it is going to cost, because
we do not know how much we are going to get, in effect, it is
all up in the air.
Q22 Chairman: But the Commission
has estimated that it might cost around £500 million, twice
as much as the last one. Is that a reasonable estimate?
Ms Dunnell: It is very difficult
to say. In our spending review proposal we have put forward our
proposals to do the census in the way we believe we need to do
it to get the right result. It may well cost much more than last
time, yes, because of various reasons like improving the quality,
the complexity to which the Commission has already referred today,
the growth in the population, and inflation of course.
Q23 Chairman: But is it going to
cost double what the last one cost?
Ms Dunnell: It is a bit difficult
to say at the moment. The whole thing is in a process with the
spending review team in the Treasury. We do not have the result
of that and I do not think we are going to get it in the next
couple of months.
Q24 Chairman: You are not allowed
to tell us what you have asked for.
Ms Dunnell: I would rather not.
Q25 Chairman: You would rather not.
Okay. When we reported on the last census, one of the things we
said was that there should be a rigorous cost-benefit analysis
carried out in time to inform the new census. Have you done that?
Ms Dunnell: We have done a lot
of work on a cost-benefit basis and some of this was published
in 2003. An enormous amount of the work we have done has, of course,
gone into the spending review papers and plans and we know from
all of the consultation we have done in preparation for the 2011
census that all government departments, local authorities, the
Health Service, every other user out there sees enormous value
in the census and is greatly supporting carrying out the next
Q26 Chairman: But that was not our
point. Everybody thinks it is valuable and everybody wants to
see the results. Our point was that there should be some cost-benefit
analysis done. Does the body of work to which you refer amount
to a cost-benefit analysis?
Ms Dunnell: I do not think it
does in strictly business terms but we have set out an awful lot
of information about, for example, the amount of money that is
allocated on the basis of the census; the costs that would be
incurred, for example, if money were misallocated to health authorities
and local authorities; and in some senses the benefits to communities
and business and so on.
Q27 Chairman: In its response to
our report, the Government said that the next census would be
a combination of the traditional headcount as well as using data
for administrative and survey sources. That is not in fact going
to happen, is it?
Ms Dunnell: No, because part of
the work that we have already done has suggested very clearly
that we need to do a proper traditional census. We do not believe
that things like administrative records are going to be in the
kind of state we need them to be for them to be an alternative
to the census but we will be using administrative records and
surveys. Could I ask Jil to say a bit more about that because
it is a very important part of our ongoing work in preparation.
Ms Matheson: One of the reports
we did publish in 2003 was both looking ahead to 2011 and beyond
and thinking about what are the alternatives, what are the ways
in which the kinds of data that the census uniquely in this country
can provide and are there any other ways in which that can be
done. There were various elements that needed to be put in place
in order for that to happen. One is the kind of information that
some other countries have on a population register, so an up-to-date
population register was one element and an up-to-date address
register was another element, plus a whole series of survey data.
We have made a lot of progress on developing a new integrated
household survey but of course the population register and indeed
the address register are not yet in place. The conclusion was
that by 2011 all of those legs that are needed will not be there.
Q28 Chairman: So we will end up with
a traditional census, albeit a more complicated one than last
Ms Matheson: A traditional census,
in that it will be an exercise that involves everyone. It is an
opportunity for every single person in the country to participate
in the census. It will have forms or internet or telephones as
a way of capturing information from people, so in that sense traditional.
There are some innovations which are partly about looking ahead
to the complexity. Professor Rhind talked about the kind of complexity
that will be introduced in 2011 and the kind of society in which
we will be conducting the census, plus some technical innovations
to learn the lessons from 2001 and take advantage of the technology
that will be there for 2011.
Q29 Chairman: We will come to some
of the details in a moment, but, in terms of procurement for the
technology itself, has the Office for Government Commerce undertaken
gateway reviews for the procurement you need for 2011?
Ms Dunnell: Yes, indeed. We have
had regular gateway reviews of this project and will continue
to work closely with OGC on this. In fact, we have had an OGC
consultant helping us with our procurement strategy, which is
now in place, and the first part of our procurement has happened
in preparation for the testso they are deeply involved,
Q30 Chairman: Have they given you
these traffic lights: red, amber and green?
Ms Dunnell: Yes.
Q31 Chairman: What are they?
Ms Dunnell: The last two have
Q32 Chairman: So you have had to
take remedial action.
Ms Dunnell: Yes. But on the last
two, both of the reds were because we got a red on one thing.
The first one was because we did not have secure funding through
our office processwhich we managed to get the week following
the redand the second was because of a particular risk
which they did not feel we had properly coveredon which
we have now of course done a lot of work. So we and they are reasonably
happy that everything is on track, yes.
Q33 Chairman: Can you supply the
Committee with reports on these reviews?
Ms Dunnell: We can do, yes.
Q34 Chairman: You have supplied us.
Ms Dunnell: No, we have not yet.
Q35 Chairman: But you could as they
Ms Dunnell: Yes*.
Chairman: Thank you.
Q36 Jim Cousins: Could I bring you
to what seems to me to be the heart of the matter and some slightly
worrying things you have already told the Committee. I think you
all agree that robust population estimates, which are a sound
basis for the distribution of government money across the country
to local government and to health authorities, is extremely important
and that we now have a very complex problem of a large group of
transient, highly mobile people who are not randomly distributed
across the country but focused in particular areas like the one
I represent. You have said you have made a bid to do the population
census as you wish it to be done, but you are not going to tell
us what that bid is. So we will have no knowledge of how you do
in the comprehensive spending review. We will have no insight
into whether we will have soundly based population figures in
the years that come after the population review. That is quite
a serious situation for this Committee to be in.
Ms Dunnell: Getting the population
estimates right at local authority and small area level is our
absolute priority. As far as I know, and from the consultation
and all the work we are doing with stakeholders, government departments,
et cetera, that is the absolute agreed priority for the
census and 90% of our efforts are focused on achieving that because
if that fails then however many other questions we have about
interesting topics become irrelevant. That is the absolute focus.
The changes that we are proposing in the methodology, the changes
we are proposing in the questionnaire to track migrants, the whole
approach to defining who we want to count on census night is all
pointing towards getting that estimate right.
Q37 Jim Cousins: We still do not
know what your bid is. We will not be able to compare it with
what the outcome is and we will not be able to see, as a Committee,
whether you in fact will be able to deliver what you have just
set out to the Committee.
Ms Dunnell: I think you will be
able to see that we have delivered it when we deliver it. The
proof will be in the eating.
Q38 Jim Cousins: That is not really
good enough, you see, because we know that there were problems
with the 2001 census and the issues for 2011 are going to be a
lot more difficult. You have already agreed on that.
Ms Dunnell: Yes.
Q39 Jim Cousins: It is no good saying
the proof will be in the eating because I represent a city which
is undercounted by 13,000 in revenue support grant and in allocations
to health trusts. Please do not tell me to wait until 2014should
I be fortunate enough to be sent back here by my constituentsand
we will all have a nice intellectual discussion about it then.
That is no good.
Ms Dunnell: We will of course
be making quite clear exactly what we are proposing to do on the
census, and all the information and the kinds of approaches that
we are doing we are going to be testing on May 13. All of that
information and our whole approach to it is in the public domain
through the test. That test will be very informative about whether
or not the methods and so on that we are proposing will work.
I do not think anybody is going to be in the dark about exactly
how we are proposing to deliver.