APPENDICES TO THE MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
Memorandum by Dr Ludi Simpson, Centre
for Census and Survey Research, University of Manchester
1. The census is achieved with a deserved
high reputation for consultation, preparation and detailed output
that represent extremely good value for the essential data that
anchor a decade's public planning. There is no alternative approach
that can match the census for democratic provision of high quality
data for local areas. In 2001, the weakness of parts of the census
fieldwork that were subcontracted for the first time, suggests
that this aspect of its organisation can be improved before the
2. The census offices' thorough and documented
consultation and research won general acceptance for their plans
ahead of the 2001 census. Their plans to measure the extent of
undercount of residents in 2001, in order to include an allowance
for it in all output (the "One Number Census"), are
innovative and have been widely and generally welcomed as an appropriate
response to the census undercount encountered in 1991.
3. The census' social, demographic and employment
data for small areas are absolutely essential to the functioning
of government. The census is a "numbering of the people"
that is independent of all administrative registers. This independent
enumeration is the only means of gaining coverage of all people,
common application to every small area, a range of basic social
and employment topics, and availability of results both inside
and outside government.
4. It is impossible to review fully the
conduct of the census until its processing is complete: only then
will the quality of data be measured in full. However, the voices
of the temporary workforce who carried out the enumeration in
2001 make up an essential ingredient for reviewing the conduct
of the census.
5. A compilation of interviews with fieldworkers
and a commentary on them have been recently published. They are
the only evaluation of the fieldwork so far published and allow
firm conclusions to be reached on some aspects. They are used
to inform the comments below (Bradford Council published "Collated
fieldwork experiences from the UK 2001 Census" in October
2001, and the commentary is contained in "Census fieldworkthe
bedrock for a decade of social analysis", Cathie Marsh Centre
for Census and Survey Research, Occasional Paper 22, University
of Manchester, M13 9PL. The commentary is attached as an Annex
to this evidence).
6. These interviews with fieldworkers, and
ONS documents, highlight some concerns about the general organisation
of the fieldwork. The following comments focus on one area, the
success of the parts of the operation which were for the first
time contracted out as commercial operations:
(a) The speed of postal collection of census
forms, contracted to Royal Mail, was completely inadequate to
meet the timetable demanded by the census operation. The result
was delayed fieldwork, and consequently a lack of focus on those
households hardest to count, higher undercount, poorer quality
results, and considerable additional costs.
(b) The arrangements to pay the 62,500 enumerators
in England and Wales, contracted to ADP Chessington and partly
sub-contracted to LASON, were over-bureaucratic and payments to
many thousands of enumerators were delayed. The delays were a
matter of days for most, more than five weeks for many thousands,
and more than two months for some hundreds. The result was extreme
hardship for some enumerators who depended on the income from
the work, loss of good-will from the managers who had to deal
with the enumerators' demands without any means of satisfying
them, and extra costs due to ONS' eventual administration of the
delayed payments in-house.
(c) The census telephone help-line, contracted
to Cable and Wireless, was insufficient to deal with demand for
it. This resulted in many thousands of frustrating and costly
calls by a public concerned to participate. Census District Managers
were concerned that they received many requests from help-line
operators unaware of the census aims and procedures.
7. These experiences do not suggest that
Census expenditure was too great but that the commercial contracts
were insufficiently specified to meet fully the needs of the census.
A fully specified contract may be more expensive, but achieve
the needs of the census operation without the additional costs
that were incurred directly by ONS in 2001 due to a service that
did not meet the needs of the operation.
8. Questions that might be usefully answered
in this respect are:
What was the level of service contracted
with the Royal Mail for return of census forms to District Managers?
Did the contract stipulate a return
of forms within a fixed number of days from collection?
Did the contract contain key dates
to recognise that District Managers had to check all forms before
telling enumerators where to return? For example all forms posted
in the week of the Census, by 4 May, were needed by Managers by
May 7 so that enumerators could return to the street on 9 May
as instructed by ONS.
What were the different levels of
service offered for postal return, and what led to the choice
of service? How was the contracted level of service to be ensured?
Similarly, what led to the inability
of the pay and helpline services to respond to the census' needs?
Which improvements could be made to such contracts in the future?
What progress has the scanning and
coding of census forms made to date, compared with that planned
for, by Lockheed Martin? What means does ONS have to ensure that
there are no delays? Delays to this contract would have a serious
impact on the utility of the Census.
What is the proportion of items missing
and invalid on forms already processed, compared with the proportion
9. If the census operation continues to
be based around a short time period, as most believe it must,
then commercial contracts may not be suited to the jobs they were
asked to perform for the 2001 Census. Commercial contracts were
not responsive to the behaviour of other organisations and of
the public in a timely manner and were not focused on the key
aims of the census. The census fieldwork operation needs a more
highly co-ordinated management than was achieved in 2001.
10. My evidence is written from experience
(a) the responsible user for Bradford Council
of 1971,1981, and 1991 census data,
(b) the lead local authority officer for
consultation on population statistics with government, 1992-2000,
(c) principal research investigator at the
University of Manchester into the size, nature and implications
of undercount by the 1991 Census,
(d) external member of the ONS Project Board
1996-2001, planning methods for reducing the impact of undercount
on users of the 2001 census,
(e) interviewer of census enumerators and
their managers during April-July 2001.
31 October 2001
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