4 Nov 2008 12:45:15

Eric Pickles uncovers cost of 2011 Census

Eric_picklesShadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles has received a written answer on the cost of the 2011 Census. The census is taken every ten years. It is an attempt to provide essential information about the country, "from national to neighbourhood level for government, business, and the community", as the Office for National Statistics puts it.

A census is a massive undertaking. There is a lengthy planning programme in the years running up to the census determining what information to gather, how to gather it, and how to display it. Last year there was a test of the data collection process, and next year there will be a "Rehearsal" of the whole system.

And it's costly:

"Mr. Pickles: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what estimate he has made of the cost to the public purse of the 2011 Census; and how much has been spent to date on trials prior to that census. [230808]

Kevin Brennan: The information requested falls within the responsibility of the UK Statistics Authority. I have asked the Authority to reply.

Letter from Karen Dunnell, dated October 2008:

    As National Statistician I have been asked to reply to your recent question asking what the estimated total cost to the public purse is of the 2011 Census, and how much has been spent to date on trials prior to that Census. (230808)

    On the basis of present planning assumptions, the cost of the 2011 Census in England and Wales over the period 2005-2016 is currently estimated to be around £487 million. Innovations for the 2011 Census within this budget include online completion of questionnaires and the tracking of each questionnaire from printing to processing through a robust form tracking system. We are also carrying out significant address register development and address checking work for the 2011 Census.

    The Censuses in Northern Ireland and Scotland are devolved matters.

    With regard to spend to date on trials prior to the 2011 Census, the way the programme of work is structured means that it is not possible to isolate expenditure specifically for testing activities. The development work has included elements of questionnaire design, address checking, and small-scale testing of components of the field operation together with the 2007 Test covering some 100,000 households. The spend to date from 2005 on planning and development for the 2011 Census is £34 million."

Are we fans of the census? Do we think it's an unnecessary intrusion, or a vital way of gathering demographic details? Could the process be cheaper? What questions would you consider refusing to answer, even if it meant facing the wrath of the state?