At Cabinet Office questions yesterday, shadow Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude raised his concerns about the costs of the 2011 census. He suggests that it could be cheaper if it were less intrusive, and appears to suggest that a Conservative Government would want to do that – but for the fact that the current Government intends printing next year's form before this year's general election.
Here's his exchange with Cabinet Office minister Angela Smith on the subject:
Francis Maude: How can the
cost of half a billion pounds, which is double the cost of the last
census, be justified at this time of fiscal crisis? In 2001, 10 per
cent. of the data was not even counted; it was imputed. Is this not a
thoroughly wasteful and inaccurate exercise?
Angela E. Smith:
Absolutely not. It is a very valuable and important exercise. The cost
is about £482 million, but we estimate that the benefit to the economy
of the work that has been done is about £700 million, so the benefits
outweigh the cost. The cost is about 87p per person per year. For every
person in the country to pay 87p per year for the benefit that we get
from the census is good value.
Mr. Maude: The census is
not even accurate. Why are Ministers rushing to send millions of the
32-page census forms to the printers this March, a full 12 months
before the census date? Should not a responsible Government be scaling
the census back? Is not the answer a less intrusive, much cheaper
census that offends the public less, increases compliance and therefore
yields much more accurate information?
Angela E. Smith: I think
the right hon. Gentleman struggles to make his point. If we look at the
costs of censuses across the world, our census is better value for
money and cheaper than those conducted in such countries as New
Zealand, Canada, Australia and the USA. In the USA the census costs
more than £2 per person per year—significantly more than in this
country. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may find that amusing,
but I find value for money quite an important aspect. The Government
are doing everything they can, working with the ONS, to ensure that the
information is accurate. It is important that the response rate is as
high as possible. We use the information to help to allocate Government
priorities and Government expenditure, so I totally refute the right
hon. Gentleman’s comments.