Preparations for 2011 Census risk letting London down, warn MPs

MPs on the London Regional Committee have warned that preparations for the 2011 Census risk a repeat of the difficulties of the 2001 Census, where the population of several London boroughs was seriously undercounted.

The Committee's report on London's population and the 2011 Census, published today, says that the acknowledged undercounting of London's population in the 2001 Census continues to have an effect on the funding provided to London's boroughs for the services they are expected to provide for the capital's population.

The MPs found that the differences between official population estimates based on the 2001 Census and population figures compiled from other sources has eroded the confidence of London boroughs in the quality of the official statistics on which funding decisions are based.

The report welcomes improvements which have been made to arrangements for the conduct of the 2011 Census and acknowledges that substantial lessons have been learned from the 2001 exercise. However, the MPs raise concerns that these preparations will not be enough to boost the number of census forms delivered, completed and collected in the capital to acceptable response levels.

Karen Buck MP, Chair of the London Committee said:

"Counting London's population as accurately as possible in the 2011 Census is vital.

"Without an accurate, accepted calculation of who lives in London, all other discussions about services in the capital are undermined."

"Delivering and collecting Census forms in the capital presents particular challenges and we are concerned that the Office for National Statistics won't assign enough staff to delivering and collecting forms in London. Hiring enough local people with the necessary community knowledge will also be key to a high response rate and a successful Census."

The Committee is calling on the Office for National Statistics to address potential problems with recruitment of skilled enumerators with the local knowledge required to ensure the successful delivery and collection of as many Census forms as possible.

The MPs also recommend that ONS discusses with London boroughs the methods it proposes to use to calculate final Census figures and estimate missing returns, in order to share expertise on the particular population profiles in each borough.

The Committee welcomes the creation of a national address register for the Census, which will greatly improve accurate delivery of census forms, but say it is 'barely credible' that this valuable resource is not to be maintained after 2011. The report recommends that the Government acts urgently to resolve the intellectual property issues which are preventing maintenance of the register past 2011.

The MPs emphasise the importance to all Londoners of completing Census forms accurately, which they say is vital to ensuring that public services in London are properly provided for over the next decade.

The Committee strongly support a successful, properly-resourced 2011 Census as the only means of providing as accurate a picture as possible of London's population in 2011 and beyond.