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Accusations over poor census communications don’t withstand scrutiny, MSPs told

Culture Secretary Angus Robertson appeared before the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)
Culture Secretary Angus Robertson appeared before the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

Accusations of poor communication of the census “do not stand up to any fair scrutiny”, the minister responsible for the survey has said.

The 2022 census has been criticised for failing to meet its 94% response rate target nationally, with just 87.9% returning the form.

As a result of the response rate, the Scottish Government twice extended the deadline for returns.

Despite the low turnout, census officials say robust data will still be produced.

Appearing before the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee on Thursday, Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson said the final cost of the census was £144.6 million, less than the £148 million previously quoted.

There was a “significant targeted effort” attempting to increase return rates in places where they were lowest, the Constitution Secretary said.

Mr Robertson said there had been 561 TV adverts run to raise awareness of the census, which he said were seen by 68% of the adult population who reported seeing the ad once and 51% who reported seeing it at least three times.

A further 11,873 radio ads were also run, he added.

“The idea that the census was not communicated or not communicated effectively just does not stand up to any fair scrutiny,” he said.

But the minister said there was a “disconnect” between the “full spectrum communication” from government on the census and the proportion of the population that was “extremely difficult to reach”.

Mr Robertson went on to say that lessons should be learned from the census to boost future response rates.

He added: “Is there more that can be done? No doubt.

“But we would definitely not want people on the committee and elsewhere to be under the impression that there was not a significant effort across all means to try to get the maximum response rate in the census.

“There most certainly was.”

However, a study undertaken by the Scottish Government showed that 17% of the 1,200 people asked said they did not know about the census.

A further 35% reported they were too busy to provide information, 14% said they did not realise they had to fill in the census and less than 5% of people reported worries over privacy, a lack of trust in government, issues over the nature of some of the questions, and access paper copies of the census return form.