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The hon. Member for Southend, West also asked what support will be in place for local authorities that see their numbers significantly reduced and, as a result, see their grants reduced. A floor damping procedure will be in place to ensure that all local authorities will receive a minimum percentage change in grants to provide stability from the effects of changes from updating data or changing methodology. That will be funded by scaling back the grant increases above the floor for other authorities.
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The decision on what those floor levels will be will, of course, be taken in due course. A balance will need to be struck between doing what is affordable while allowing some underlying change to come through in the funding of local authorities.

Some concern was expressed by both hon. Gentlemen about the post and the impact of using the post rather than hand-delivered surveys. In fact, in the 2001 census, even with hand delivery, enumerators failed to make doorstep contact with households at more than a third of the addresses that they visited and had to resort to delivering the form through the letterbox. The use of an established postal service will enable a more focused approach to the follow-up activities in order to improve response rates. The plan is for a post-back response of 60 to 70 per cent. The contract with the chosen postal service will demand the ability to cope with that level of response within the time frame allocated. A purpose-built address list and form-tracking system will enable the ONS to monitor and record the delivery of every form in the field, minimising the risk of forms going astray.

The hon. Member for Southend, West asked why it will take so long to release the data. The final results will be released in September 2012, which, he is right, is 18 months after 27 March 2011. The proposals for the 2011 census include an increased emphasis on quality assurance of the results during their preparation—I am sure that he would welcome that increased quality assurance—and cross-checks against other national and local data sources. The statisticians need enough time to conclude the complex task of processing the census data, to make the necessary adjustments for undercounts, and fully to quality-assure the results before they are released and used. A length of time is involved in doing that very complex work.

The hon. Member for Southend, West asked about the security of filling in forms online, and about how appropriate that system is. I think that it is appropriate for people to be able to return forms online, and we may find that the response rate to that is high. The ONS is committed to ensuring proper data security and confidentiality. Despite some of the complaints that are
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raised in this House, the ONS has a very good record on data assurance, but perhaps I can give the hon. Gentleman further details of the plans in place when I write to him following the debate.

The hon. Gentleman talked about growing family sizes, and was concerned about the large size of the form and the additional forms that would be required in households. In fact, the average household size across the country is smaller than it was in 2001, but the form has been redesigned to accommodate space for an additional resident and up to three visitors in order to reduce the number of requests for additional forms. However, there will be clear instructions on the form and in accompanying publicity material on how to obtain additional forms for larger households.

A helpline will also be put in place. The hon. Gentleman was concerned that it would be open only from 8 am to 8 pm, but I can assure him that it will be possible for people to call outside those hours, leave a message and ask to be called back. I hope that that is a helpful observation.

Some concerns have been raised about whether the conduct of the census this time has been designed to make cost savings. In fact, the Government have allocated additional funds to allow for a number of improvements in the 2011 census. Those improvements include more questions, a national address register, an internet collection option, more resources to follow up non-response, and a questionnaire tracking system. Approximately three times the 2001 level of effort will be going into the follow-up operation, which will include helping people—such as the elderly—who have difficulty filling in the forms.

Time is running short, and the hon. Member for Southend, West was kind enough to tell me that he was interested in finding the answer to a number of other questions. He has pledged to write to me after the debate, and I shall be happy to write back to him with detailed responses to his questions.

Question put and agreed to.

10.47 pm

House adjourned.

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