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COLIN BARROW: How Westminster 'lost' 61,000 residents in 2001

PUBLISHED: 17:13 12 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:46 07 September 2010

ON Monday of this week I gave evidence to a committee of parliamentarians, known as the London Regional Select Committee, recently established to look at issues that specifically affect the capital. I am really pleased that the first issue that the comm

ON Monday of this week I gave evidence to a committee of parliamentarians, known as the London Regional Select Committee, recently established to look at issues that specifically affect the capital.

I am really pleased that the first issue that the committee has chosen to look at is the preparations that the Office of National Statistics is making for the census in 2011.

You may think that this is a very dry, boring subject but it's actually really important for Westminster.

Put simply, the count recorded at the census has a big influence on the level of grant that the council receives and the budgets given to both the police and the NHS locally. It's therefore really important that the ONS get the census right when they come to count Westminster's population in 2011.

Councils up and down the country are worried about this because, for many, our experiences of the last census in 2001 were not particularly positive. Research suggests that over 63,000 people were 'lost' in the 2001 Westminster count - over 25 per cent of our population. Since then we have been lobbying for the ONS to pay special attention to Westminster due to the difficulties that they have counting Westminster's population.

On the whole Westminster's residents have a terrible track record of engaging with official surveys.

In 2001 we had a census response rate of 74 per cent, the fourth lowest in the country, and only 23 per cent of residents responded to a national 2008 Place Survey, the second lowest in the country.

This is hardly surprising when you consider that around 30 per cent of our population moves in and out of the borough in a single year and that, for somewhere in the region of 70 per cent of our residents, English is a second language.

We therefore need all the help we can get to ensure accurate counting and maximum return.

That's what I was asking for on Monday. We need the census organisers to use robust and accurate address lists to ensure that all of our residents receive forms.

We need well trained address checkers and researchers to help those people who may find it difficult to fill in the census forms. And we need the Government and the ONS to recognise that we have over 62,000 short term migrants living in the city who are unregistered by official statistics and, for whatever reason, will be very difficult to count.

I'm pleased to say that the evidence session went well with me, the Mayor of Newham and the Leader of Southwark Council all saying very similar things, despite coming from different points on the political spectrum.

It was helpful that Karen Buck MP chairs the committee as she knows first hand the problems Westminster has encountered as a result of bad census preparations and counting.

I know that the committee is taking evidence from other concerned parties such as the Local Government Association, the GLA and London Councils and I hope that both the Government and the ONS take heed of both the evidence presented and the committee's final recommendations.

For our part, the council will continue to do everything that it can to raise awareness of the census so that, when that envelope lands on a Westminster doormat (providing the ONS have the addresses right!) residents are expecting it and understand the importance of returning it. We can't afford for the ONS to get this wrong and will be working with them as closely as they will let us, to make sure we get a fair deal for Westminster.

q Colin Barrow is the leader of Westminster City Council


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