Select Committee on Treasury Eleventh Report

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  this Report presents our final consideration of the work of the Office for National Statistics and its effectiveness in counting the population, except insofar as they relate to our scrutiny of economic indicators. (Paragraph 7)

2.  We recognise that in a period of significant population change and individual mobility meeting the requirements of users has become more complex for the Statistics Authority. The amount of population turnover, both nationally and locally has made it increasingly difficult for the current methods of counting the population to estimate the numbers of people in an area and on what basis they are there. (Paragraph 48)

3.  It is accepted that population estimates are central to every national system of official statistics. They are used in statistical formulae that allocate vast sums of public money to the devolved administrations, to local government, the health service and public services. It is therefore a matter of social responsibility to ensure that population statistics are calculated accurately. (Paragraph 53)

4.  The provision of accurate information about how many people are present within the country and where they are located is essential to effective policy-making and the effective delivery of services. Society is becoming more mobile and the information held electronically about events, persons and services by government agencies and other bodies has substantially increased. We require the Statistics Authority in response to this Report to set out the steps it will take to utilise and better link data held by the Government and by local government in order to provide a more accurate picture of the population within this country. (Paragraph 62)

5.  The International Passenger Survey was designed to provide data primarily for tourism and business travel purposes. It is now called upon to play a central role in estimating international migration. It is clear from the evidence we have received that the Survey is not fit for this new purpose. We recommend that the Statistics Authority replace the International Passenger Survey with a new Survey that is more comprehensive and more suited to the accurate measurement of international movements affecting the size of the resident population of the United Kingdom. (Paragraph 67)

6.  Based on the evidence we have received, it is evident that there are substantial problems in generating accurate population estimates in some Local Authority areas. The current methods of estimating internal migration are unsatisfactory and lead to decisions on the allocation of funding to Local Authorities being based on inadequate information. The Statistics Authority should establish as an immediate priority the provision of local population statistics that more accurately reflects the full range of information available about local populations and the effects of internal migration. (Paragraph 71)

7.  Official mid-year population estimates, based on the 'usually resident' definition of population, do not include short-term migrants. Such estimates do not fully meet the needs of Local Authorities and commercial users who are also interested in, for example, short-term migrants as well as day-time and week-day populations. We recommend that the Statistics Authority investigate the feasibility of producing population estimates based on different measures of population, such as estimates which include short-term migrants and estimates which include the day-time population of Local Authorities. (Paragraph 83)

8.  We are seriously concerned about the reliability and validity of ONS estimates of short-term international migrants. Evidence from administrative data sources such as the National Insurance Number register suggests the ONS estimates do not reflect the scale of short-term migration in England and Wales. We recommend that the Statistics Authority examine the feasibility of producing estimates of short-term migration at sub-national level, using the successor to the International Passenger Survey that we recommended earlier and a greater range of administrative data. (Paragraph 84)

9.   We further recommend that the Statistics Authority continue the ONS's work with Local Authorities and carries out a series of case studies to identify alternative administrative data sources. These include the National Insurance Number register, GP lists, other health service lists, council tax records, and various registers on children and school children. Although we recognise that different areas have different problems associated with counting the population and administrative registers, we recommend that the Statistics Authority produce a best practice guide. (Paragraph 85)

10.  The evidence we received highlighted the importance of funding a fourth page for the Census. Following our inquiry it was announced the extra £25 million need to finance this page would be provided through cross-government funding and we welcome this development. (Paragraph 89)

11.  We note that the Government has failed to make any progress in establishing an address register for the 2011 Census. We heard repeated references to the necessity of establishing the register yet were surprised to hear that no business case had been published. We recommend that such a case is prepared engaging all potential beneficiaries. It is unclear whether leadership weakness, lack of legislative means or the financial obligations of the trading fund status have contributed most to the failure. We recommend that the Government consult the Statistics Authority and others to remove any outstanding obstacles to the production of an address register. (Paragraph 95)

12.  We remain concerned that the personal information gathered through the 2011 Census could be subject to the United States Patriot Act and therefore we ask the Government to take clear legal advice and advice from the US State Department and to publish it in response to this Report. (Paragraph 106)

13.  The highly developed statistical systems within the Nordic Countries provide important examples for the UK statistical system. The development of computerised administrative records in the UK has moved on rapidly in recent years and that development looks set to continue. The Department for Work and Pensions already has an extremely powerful register of personal information. The Statistics and Registration Service Act has established a framework for conditions under which such information could be used for statistical purposes. We recommend that the Government work with the Statistics Authority to ensure that strong ethical safeguards are put in place to protect the personal information held by government departments. We further recommend that the Statistics Authority set out in response to this Report the action that the Authority will take under the powers in the Statistics and Registration Service Act to develop the Government's administrative databases to provide a more accurate and cost effective method of monitoring the population. (Paragraph 139)

14.  We recommend that the Statistics Authority establish a pilot project enabling a population register to be operated alongside the 2011 Census in order to compare the effectiveness of such a system with that of the Census. (Paragraph 140)

15.  NHS registers provide useful but limited data on population movements. We recommend that the Statistics Authority liaise with the Department of Health on the project to replace the current National Health Service Central Register to ensure that opportunities offered by a new system for improvements in the contribution of such data to population statistics are not lost. (Paragraph 145)

16.  We recommend that the Statistics Authority set strategic objectives to ensure that the data gathered throughout the UK can be used to produce annual population statistics that are of a quality that will enable the 2011 Census to be the last census in the UK where the population is counted through the collection of census forms. (Paragraph 149)

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