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Labour consultant Councillor Pavitar Mann looks at the impact of the 2011 Census on her own authority of Slough
The Census last year undoubtedly saw many examples of people indulging in the good old British pastime of moaning. I regularly heard complaints of “Big Brother state” and “Why do I have to include my night-time visitors” echoing out as we desperately urged our residents to complete their forms. If only residents understood the importance of an accurate Census count, perhaps they would be more inclined to complete it, and complete it quickly!
The Census 2011 in Slough was a hugely pivotal event. We have long been arguing that our current population was far, far higher than official estimates would have you believe. We need only have looked at the number of our residents accessing our doctors, our hospitals, our schools and on our housing waiting list to demonstrate a widely diverging picture from the official count. Why does this matter you might ask? To put it bluntly, the main reason that we rely on accurate Census figures is to ensure adequate government funding for our services. It has been worked out that the impact on local government funding equates to approximately £600 per person per year. When you have a substantial population undercount, as was the case in Slough,that adds up to a considerable sum and a considerable impact on services. That’s not even taking into account the impact that the cuts to local government have had in tandem with this. Furthermore, accurate information on the characteristics of the population also assists in planning and delivering services across all groups equitably and fairly. It is also a helpful tool when it comes to performance metrics which are often done via rates per 1,000. Slough saw the 10th largest rise in population rates since 2001 with an increase of 16.3%. This substantial increase (which we still believe to be slightly lower on our actual headcount) has proved that what we have been banging on about all this time has proved true.
Nationally, the Census figures also tell us a lot and should be utilised in the government’s planning for services and growth. Headline figures include the news that 16.4% of the population are now aged over 65 – the highest percentage ever. This trend is only set to grow and the government must now be taking a closer look into older people’s provisions, especially how this group have specific priorities when it comes to housing, accessibility and location of services. Furthermore, the national figures showed that ½ of the Local Authorities with the highest population increase were in London and the South East with ½ of the Local Authorities with the highest declining populations were in the North West. This may also further contribute to where housing growth and economic growth is focused on by the government as it can be reasonable to equate the migration from the North West to the decline in employment in those areas. I do not, however, see it having a huge effect on the projected housing numbers being put forward by different local authorities. Local councils have long been wary of using the Census figures as absolute, accomplished as we are in understanding our local population better than the ONS. Therefore many councils commission their own reports into population figures on which they base their housing figures making it likely that the new confirmed Census 2011 figures will have little to no impact on individual council’s projected housing numbers.
Regardless of the importance on population figures on local government funding, they will have no impact whatsoever for the short term. The 2010 CSR set out the government’s intentions and funding settlements to run until 2014-2015 inclusive. Whilst speculation is always rife, there is no firm commitments by HM Treasury that the 2011 Census will have any impact until the ‘next CSR’ spending period. One would reasonably assume that the increase in population figures should correlate with an increase in funding. However, with the increase in population nationally, the overall climate for local authority funding, the effect of floors and dampeners and the bleak picture for our national economy with the recent economic output at -0.7%, it is difficult to see if the increase in population will result in ANY increase in funding.
Despite this, the Census 2011 results are important in our understanding of our population and their needs and will be an important tool in the planning of services and investment. Plus, perhaps most importantly (said with tongue-firmly-in-cheek) it provides us Labour councillors in Slough the opportunity to say “We told you so.”
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