Westminster vows to fight on in census row

6 Feb 03
Westminster City Council warned that it was on a 'collision course' with the Office for National Statistics this week as the row over census data escalated with the publication of the final local government finance settlement.

07 February 2003

The council, together with up to nine other local authorities, is disputing the population figures in the 2001 census. According to the ONS, Westminster lost 26% of its population between 2000 and 2001; Kensington and Chelsea lost 17%; Manchester 11%; and Cambridge 13%. Derby City Council estimates that it has lost up to 6.2% of its population while thousands have reportedly been missed off the census in Forest Heath District Council after the ONS forgot two army bases.

The census figures play a vital part in calculating the funding share for local authorities as well as resource allocations for police and health.

Westminster estimates that it is losing £59m in 2003/04 and Derby around £3.8m.

So far the ONS has maintained that its figures are correct and has refused to make any revisions.

Westminster has also appealed to local government minister Nick Raynsford, but this week's final grant distribution figures were largely unchanged from those proposed in December.

The council is now exploring a number of options, including legal action and applying to the chancellor for a re-run of the census.

Westminster leader Kit Malthouse said the ONS was refusing to 'get around the table and discuss the situation. We are getting suspicious that they are stalling, hoping we will go away.'

He added that the council was compiling a powerful case against the ONS, including anecdotal evidence from census enumerators. In a letter, seen by Public Finance, one described the 2001 census as a 'chaotic, grossly, inadequate operation', where material was submitted without households being visited.

Westminster also holds its own data, which shows that the ONS has recorded only half the households in some wards.

However, Westminster is also looking to Manchester City Council, which has won a concession of sorts from the ONS. It has agreed to a data-matching exercise, overseen by Manchester University, to compare the council's population figures with those of the ONS.

'Time is running out,' Malthouse said. 'We are on a collision course with them and are not frightened to take people to court.'


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