Westminster councillors divided over ‘intrusive’ census

Council urges residents to support census but one councillor suggests it is ‘interfering’ in people’s lives

WHEN it comes to the upcoming census later this month it seems there will be a lack of harmony within Westminster Council.

More than a quarter of Westminster’s population was estimated to have been “lost” from the 2001 census, resulting in a �378million shortfall in government funding for the council over the past decade.

In an effort to ensure the situation is not repeated in the upcoming census on March 27, the council is urging all residents to make sure they fill in the forms.

But one member of the council, Hyde Park Councillor Jean-Paul Floru, has spoken out against the “intrusive” business of compiling census statistics, even suggesting the government would “not survive” having to prosecute if millions of people abstained from the process.

Appealing to residents to avoid a repeat of the last census where 63,000 people in the borough were not counted, Westminster Council leader Colin Barrow said: “Over the last 10 years this money could have funded key areas such as social services, housing and education.

“In this age of austerity where every penny counts it’s incredibly important that local people complete and send back their census forms in order for us to secure the right amount of government funding for them and their services.”

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But writing on the website of UK think tank the Adam Smith Institute, Cllr Floru makes it clear he is not willing to toe the party line.

He says: “The main reason to oppose the intrusive census is not privacy. It is also not the cost. It is the existence of the figures themselves.”

He adds: “Why does the government need to know? To justify interfering, nannying, taxing, fining and legislating.

“The census is there to help the government regulate. And, as Ronald Reagan taught us: ‘The nine most dangerous words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’.”

While he shies clear of telling people to reject the census outright, the sentiment of Cllr Floru’s comments leave little to the imagination.

“So, what to do?” he asks. “Now, as then, it is a criminal offence not to fill in the form. Now, as then, it is the Office for National Statistics’ policy to only prosecute where there is sufficient evidence to prosecute.

“In fact, out of the three million people who mislaid the form in 2001, only 38 were successfully prosecuted. And most of those were quite extreme cases where census field staff had been intimidated or abused.

“There is no reason why that number would be higher for the 2011 census.

“The Coalition would not survive widespread unrest resulting from mass prosecutions.”

While Cllr Floru was unavailable to comment in a personal capacity, a council spokesman made it clear he was writing in a private capacity and was entitled to express his own views.

Censuses have been carried out in Great Britain every 10 years since 1801, except for 1941 during the Second World War.