Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)|
WEDNESDAY 24 OCTOBER 2001
40. Will you in due course be able to quantify
the complaints? Are you going to report on that to somebody?
(Mr Cook) We will report on the significance of concerns
but we may not have exact counts of every one, simply because
there were radio interviews, television interviews, letters to
41. No, I do not mean those. You had a call
centre and a contact number.
(Mr Cook) We had that as well.
42. Are you telling me that you have not logged
(Mr Cook) No, we have logged those.
43. But you have not counted them.
(Mr Cook) What I am saying is that that is not complete
in the sense of there being a lot of other information we would
want to take into account in assessing whether an individual question
was well accepted or not.
44. I am asking specifically about complaints.
(Mr Cook) Yes, we can answer that.
45. My specific question is: have you not yet
counted the complaints? You do not know what people complained
about yet; you do not know how many complaints.
(Mr Cook) We have not formally analysed that yet.
46. You have not done that yet.
(Mr Cook) We do have some very good information which
we are building up about the way in which individual questions
47. I received a number of calls to my office
in the constituency from people who had made many efforts to contact
you on your contact number without any success at all. They wanted
to ask a question or wanted some help to complete the form or
were not sure what to do with part of it. As a last resort they
started asking me so we tried contacting your helpline number
and we could not get through to it either. Did you underestimate
the extent to which people would need help with completing this
(Mr Cook) Monday 23 April was a day when we were completely
swamped. It was the Monday before the Census and we answered 53
per cent of the phone calls which came in. The next day we took
action to increase the number of people dealing with calls and
we increased it from 370 to 1,300 phone lines. From the time that
happened, which was late on 25 Aprilor it may have been
26 Aprilwe actually got somewhat over 99 per cent response
rate to all calls. We had a three-day period when we were swamped
by the number of people who wanted to follow up what was happening
to their form. We believe that came about in a sense because until
22 April our enumerators had been trying to make contact with
households before they provided them with Census forms. In the
week before the Census, they were leaving Census forms at all
households where they had made no contact. Because of a large
number of people being away, a huge number of people early on
in that week, responding to the overall communications programme,
were saying they did not have a Census form and they wanted one.
We were completely swamped in that time.
48. Was that not predictable?
(Mr Cook) We can analyse what probably happened, but
we certainly did not predict it.
49. You yourself said in the introduction that
you knew you were compiling a large and complex Census. Should
that not have led you to anticipate that there would be rather
a lot of queries when this landed on people's doormats.
(Mr Cook) That was why we set up the helpline as we
50. But you had to increase it fourfold.
(Mr Cook) Yes, but we increased it once. The fact
we had to increase it is also symptomatic of the very huge shift
in the willingness or wish of people to communicate by telephone
which we underestimated.
51. How did you increase it in practice? What
did you have to do to increase that ability to respond to the
(Mr Cook) We had a period of discussion with the company
to which we outsourced the telephone network, Cable & Wireless,
over a 24-hour period. After we had internally come to a judgement
about what we needed to do in terms of the scale of response,
they then came back to us with a range of things they could do
to deliver that. Part of it was a two-phase response where we
set up a line which was directly handling simple questions on
the forms and a line which could handle more complex inquiries
which carried on with the basic advertised phone number. That
two-level response was the one which was developed by Cable &
Wireless in consultation with us and put in place within that
52. What did it cost?
(Mr Pullinger) The total cost of the contract for
the helpline is £1.5 million. I do not have the number in
front of me for the cost of that specific addition. The scale
of the helpline within the overall Census is that sort of amount.
53. The total helpline cost was £1.5 million.
(Mr Pullinger) Yes, that is right.
54. Has it closed now?
(Mr Pullinger) The formal helpline has closed but
we still have helplines which we are operating ourselves. Questions
are still coming up.
55. When did the formal helpline close?
(Mr Pullinger) There were different stages of it.
The key one was 1 October for the main helpline.
56. How many forms were posted out because people
were missed out in the first place? People said they had no form
and you had to send them one or deliver them one. How many did
you miss the first time round?
(Mr Pullinger) The people who would have had forms
posted to them would have been people who telephoned the helpline
to say they had no form and could we send them one.
57. Yes. How many of those were there?
(Mr Pullinger) Seventy-five thousand.
58. I understand you had extensive and prolonged
consultations with the RNIB in advance of the Census but they
then launched a campaign for a Braille Census form which from
the outside appeared to catch the Census office somewhat by surprise.
Were you ambushed? What was the problem?
(Mr Cook) We had a very very large amount of consultation.
We had videos, we even had lists of questions in Braille and a
lot of our Census documentation was in Braille. Certainly where
we felt really quite surprised and disappointed was the assertion
by that group that we had actually done nothing in the intervening
ten years since the last Census when in fact we had a huge amount
of material. We even had every question in Braille and instructions
in Braille and a whole lot of other things which were done: videos,
large-sized print, forms. We did not receive answers in Braille
but we actually provided questions. We did a huge amount and had
people available to support our enumerators. We recognise we can
go further and continue to go further to improve the way we are
able to relate to all groups in the community which have some
form of disability. We were disappointed at the extreme nature
of their criticism and responded to it accordingly.
59. Would you expect to have a Braille Census
form in a future census?
(Mr Cook) We should like to move to a way of receiving
answers in Braille in some way and I am not quite sure whether
that would have the same legal status as a Census form. We still
have more work to do. We would be very much guided by what other
countries do. Members of the statistics community generally learn
from each other and this is an issue which countries make breakthroughs
on. Certainly what we did in this Census is as good as anyone
else we know of.
2 Correction by witness: One hundred and sixty