Select Committee on Treasury Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240-259)


28 JANUARY 2008

  Q240  Ms Keeble: Have you hit all the points on your critical path? Do you have all the traffic lights green that you should have?

  Ms Dunnell: At the moment, yes, we are doing quite well. Our most important one coming up is the procurement to finalise who is going to take forward this big task, and we are expecting to get to that point in May. We have an OGC check coming up just before that, so we are working very, very hard to make sure we get through that.

  Q241  Ms Keeble: You said just now that you are going to rely on local authorities to deliver some of the details of what you needed with the hard-to-engage groups. You said previously also that the lists provided by the local authorities were not adequate. What is the position there? Since you can get computer programmes that will do some of the work on hard-to-reach groups and where they are, could those not be used?

  Ms Dunnell: We are not relying on local authorities to do this. What we are doing is working much more closely with them than we did in 2001 because, of course, they are the main users of the results at the end of the day and the first people to jump up and down and complain if they think we have not got the answers right. So we are working very closely with them on whether they have data sources that can help us plan the census and whether they have data sources that can help us quality-assure them and whether they can do all those things like help us find enumerators, identify community groups, provide resources and so on. That is the kind of thing we are doing. We are not just handing the problem over to them.

  Q242  Chairman: Just clarify for me the total amount that you got in the whip round the other departments? You got the £25 million for the fourth page but that is not the total of your bid?

  Ms Dunnell: For the census?

  Q243  Chairman: For the additional money that you were short of.

  Ms Dunnell: The additional money for the census, yes.

  Q244  Chairman: You only need £25 million in total?

  Ms Dunnell: Yes.

  Q245  Jim Cousins: Ms Dunnell, can I take you back to the point you made about the fact that you had 1,500 interviewers going out day by day? How many of those people experience abuse, verbal or physical, in the course of their work?

  Ms Dunnell: I do not actually have the figures to hand but what I do know is it is quite rare actually. They are very highly trained. I think they probably get more difficulty from dogs than people actually. We do, of course, send letters in advance saying that somebody is coming, so if people really have a very strong aversion to somebody coming round to interview them, they tend to phone up or write in so that we can prevent it. It very rarely comes to my attention that they have difficulty.

  Q246  Chairman: I think the Committee would probably be grateful for any hard information about that.

  Ms Dunnell: Yes, we can certainly do that for you. [1]

  Q247 Chairman: Do you get any reports through your permanent team of interviewers of neighbourhoods where they do not feel safe?

  Ms Dunnell: Yes. We have an awful lot of inside information about that because interviewers, by and large, get used to the areas that they work in, so they develop an enormous amount of local knowledge about how to get into gated communities, how to get through security systems, what are good times, et cetera. As I said, we do write out to people in advance so that if there are problems we try, where we can, to get telephone numbers and so on. An awful lot of their training is in how to actually find people in difficult circumstances. We are using some of the information that our interviewers have, of course, on the Census to identify just those areas where we need to put extra resources in.

  Q248  Jim Cousins: Just to be clear about this, you are saying that there is some information you have about areas where interviewers do not feel safe. You just now made reference to the use of telephone numbers. Do you accept that the number of people who have declared information about landlines is now going down rapidly?

  Ms Dunnell: Yes, we do believe that the number of people who have landlines is going down.

  Q249  Jim Cousins: Not the people who have a landline, but the people who have a landline and are prepared to have the number made available.

  Ms Dunnell: Listed, yes. That is definitely going down and we do not rely on it. What I am referring to is that when we write out to people, if people are going to have a problem helping us then we encourage them—

  Q250  Jim Cousins: What percentage of people have landlines?

  Ms Matheson: 90% of households have a landline and that has gone down.

  Q251  Jim Cousins: How many of those landlines are, as it were, open access landlines where the information is declared?

  Ms Matheson: I do not know.

  Q252  Jim Cousins: I would be grateful if you could get that information for the Committee.

  Ms Dunnell: The proportion of them that are x-directory is what you are looking for?

  Q253  Jim Cousins: Yes.

  Ms Dunnell: I am sorry, we do not know that offhand. [2]

  Q254 Jim Cousins: Do you accept that the areas where people are, for a variety of reasons, hard to measure, where there is considerable churn and transience of population, and where there is a great deal of volatility about the numbers of people, are not spread randomly across the country, they are concentrated into particular local authority areas, particular neighbourhoods?

  Ms Dunnell: Yes.

  Q255  Jim Cousins: What impact does that have on the margin of error of your overall statistical information, particularly about mid-year estimates?

  Ms Dunnell: We have just published indicators of churn which suggest that some local authorities are experiencing more than a quarter of their population changing each year and relatively stable communities where it is 5% or less. There is a huge variation and it does make a difference. One of the reasons we developed that measure was because it is an extra bit of information on top of the population estimates about the kinds of communities that live in those places. I do not think it is really new to areas like Camden and Islington, for example, that they have got a higher level of population churn, but having statistics about it makes it very clear and obvious that they are in the top ten, as it were, and they can use that information and government departments can use that information in bringing an indicator like that to bear on decisions that they may make about resource allocation and so on.

  Q256  Jim Cousins: What is the margin of error about the mid-year estimates bearing that point in mind? Does that margin of error vary between areas of low churn and high churn?

  Ms Dunnell: What we know about our population estimates is that there is three elements to it: births, deaths and migration. As we have discussed, the migration of all of those is the one we estimate rather than count because births and deaths we have 100% registration of in the United Kingdom so we can be absolutely sure about those. Migration is something that we have to estimate based on samples. Obviously we are less confident in statistical terms about that. The interesting thing is not only has international migration increased but also so has internal migration, which is why we are very interested in tapping into other sources of information which will help us get a better picture of who is where local authority by local authority.

  Q257  Jim Cousins: So what is the overall margin of error in your mid-year estimates of population and does that vary according to the area?

  Ms Dunnell: Yes. It will vary by area because—

  Q258  Jim Cousins: What is the margin of error and how much does it vary?

  Ms Dunnell: I am not sure that we have got exact measures of this because it is very, very complicated to do and I am not sure that we have got the methodological wherewithal to do that. We do acknowledge that it is the migration part of it which is the most difficult to establish. This year, we have only just introduced the new method of apportioning international migrants using the Labour Force Survey. I think what we can do now is a bit more work on trying to establish the reliability of that in statistical terms. [3]

  Q259 Jim Cousins: I want to come to that, but before I do I just want to be clear about this. You have just set out very clearly the difficulties you have with certain key factors in components of the population and you have just told the Committee you do not have any sound margin of error for your mid-year estimates, nor how that margin of error might vary taking into account the factors that you have just referred to, that you do not have that.

  Ms Dunnell: We do not publish estimates of the statistical error, no.

1   Ev 282 Back

2   Ev 283 Back

3   3 Ev 286 Back

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