Scotland’s ‘botched’ census is set to cost taxpayers £140m

The Liberal Democrats, who obtained the details through the Freedom of Information legislation, pointed out that the total cost was more than double what the government spent on the 2011 survey.

National Records of Scotland (NRS) said total spending to 31 March 2023 was £135m, with a further £5m expected to be spent over the next two financial years.

READ MORE: When the 2022 Scottish Census will be released as England and Wales report first results

Scottish ministers decided in July 2020 to postpone the census by a year, making it no longer consistent with the census in England and Wales.

This decision to postpone was blamed for the low returns.

Despite the one month extension of the deadline, only 89% of households in Scotland submitted the survey.

Below the Scottish Government’s target of 90% and much lower than the 97% overall response rate reported in England and Wales.

Officials have previously stated that robust data can still be obtained from the census.

The extension of the deadline added around £6m to the initial cost.

Last year, public spending regulator Audit Scotland asked NRS to find out why Scotland’s initial rate of return was lower than other parts of the UK.

This report is expected before the end of the year.

Liberal Democrat MP Willie Rennie said the “botched” census will affect government service delivery for years to come.

“Ministers have made significant changes including moving the census online and moving it away from being synchronized with data collection elsewhere in the UK. Then they refused to learn the lessons of nationalist belligerence.

“Now that we see the exorbitant prices, it is once again becoming clear to the public that SNP cannot be trusted to deliver a project on time.

“What is worse is that census bungling will now have a domino effect on government service delivery over the next decade.

“The relevant Cabinet Secretary must set out what type of review of the census process will be carried out and how the government will ensure that these errors are not repeated.”

READ MORE: The declaration was ordered as Scotland has the lowest census response rate in the UK

Scottish Conservative MP Alexander Stewart added: “The SNP’s conduct of the Scottish Census fell into utter chaos and now taxpayers are paying a staggering bill at the hands of the Nationalists’ gross mismanagement.”

“Typically, SNP ministers decided they knew best and failed to synchronize the census with the rest of the UK. Despite numerous extensions, this led to an overall poorer response rate and a bill that ultimately got out of control.

“This SNP government was notorious for its disastrous handling of public projects during its 16-year tenure, and the botched census is another prime example.”

“Their arrogant decision to do things differently has not only landed taxpayers a bill of over £140million but will also impact how future policy decisions are made. Ministers urgently need to explain what lessons, if any, they have learned from this debacle.” .”

An NRS spokeswoman said: “No other survey provides as much information as the census.”

“Estimates from other censuses have shown that for every pound spent on the census, there is an economic benefit of about £5.”

“While much of the cost of the census is concentrated in the key years of deployment, most of the long-term benefits are felt throughout the lifecycle of the program after the survey phases.

“NRS has continued to ensure that we only spend what we need to conduct a census and the benefits that come with it. Where efficiency improvements are possible, they serve to ensure that we get value for money from public funds.

“By the end of 2024 an assessment of the 2022 Scottish Census focusing on lessons learned for future censuses and other complex programs will be prepared for Ministers and presented to Parliament.”

She continued: “89% of the responses came through the online platform and 11% in paper form.

“This split is the same as for the 2021 census in England and Wales.”

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