Maude, who has responsibility for the census, told the paper that the Government was looking for a “fundamentally” better way of doing it.
“There are, I believe, ways of doing this which will provide better, quicker information, more frequently and cheaper.”
He indicated that the government is considering cheaper ways to count the UK population more regularly using existing databases in the public and private sectors, including credit reference agencies.
Mr Maude said the Census was “out of date almost before it has been done” and was looking at ways to count the population more frequently — perhaps every five years — using databases held by credit checking firms, Royal Mail, councils and Government.
“This would give you more accurate, much more timely data in real time. There is a load of data out there in loads of different places,” he said.
The census costs £482m: Maude admitted that it was too late to cancel the 2011 count although he would be looking at ways of cutting the cost. Cabinet looked set to approve the cancellation of the 2021 census. But as Jim Pickard writing in the FT's Westminster blog comments:
“To get to that point the Tories (or coalition) have to win the 2015 election and then the 2020 election. And still be in a cost-cutting mood. That’s a whole pyramid of ifs.”Kable, the Guardian's public service intelligence website, pointed out that a report by the Office for National Statistics (which is responsible for the census) in 2003 had already proposed linking existing data sources instead of carrying out the national census.
The ONS said that its Beyond 2011 project will continue. This was started in 2009 to develop better ways of measuring an increasingly changing population by focusing on the integration of existing and new data sources. These include survey, census and administrative information.