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Census minister leaves country as survey branded a ‘fiasco’

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Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson will meet EU politicians in Brussels as the extended May 31 deadline for the $189.20 million survey lapses

The SNP cabinet minister in charge of Scotland’s census will be out of the country when the exercise closes today as opponents warn it has turned into a ‘fiasco’.

Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson will meet EU politicians in Brussels today and tomorrow as the extended May 31 deadline for the £150 million ($189.20 million) survey lapses.

His absence means he cannot be questioned at Holyrood about the situation this week.

Parliament will not sit on Thursday because of the Jubilee holiday.

The National Records of Scotland last night said almost one in seven households had not filled in a form, meaning a possible £1000 ($1261.36) fine.

NRS said the national return rate was 86.6 per cent, with the rate below 85% in six local authorities, including Glasgow. It means around 400,000 homes have yet to respond.

The target is 94.2% overall and at least 85% in all 32 councils.

Opposition parties blamed the Scottish Government’s decision to delay the once-a-decade household survey by a year because of the pandemic, while England and Wales went ahead as planned in 2021, and achieved a 97% response rate.

The Scottish census was due to end by May 1, but Robertson delayed it a month after a dire response rate at a cost of £10 million ($12.61 million).

Nicola Sturgeon has said outside experts will check the census to ensure it was a ‘credible exercise’.

The Scottish Tories demanded all future censuses be run in sync across the UK to maximise public awareness and take-up.

MSP Donald Cameron MSP said: The SNP’s running of Scotland’s census has been shambolic from the start. They put nationalist ideology above what’s best for Scotland.

By rejecting the chance to be part of a successful UK-wide promotion campaign, the SNP seriously damaged the census response rate, he said.

The survey has so far cost the taxpayer £150 million ($189.20 million) and there is no guarantee that the Scottish Government will receive enough responses today to make the data usable, he said.

It is essential that these SNP mistakes are not repeated. The Scottish Conservatives are calling on the SNP, and every other political party in Scotland, to match our pledge to ensure that any future census is fully aligned with the rest of the UK.

Scottish Labour warned of a ‘decade of injustice’ resulting from the census, as the return rates were lowest in deprived areas, affecting future public service provision.

MSP Sarah Boyack said: This mess will take years to clean up. These are not just numbers on a spreadsheet – this is about funding and services for our communities.

Without action this will deliver a decade of injustice in Scotland as the worst-off communities are left paying the price for SNP failure, she said.

The SNP must set out how they will make sure this botched census doesn’t leave the poorest areas short-changed, she said.

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie added: There will need to be some soul searching in the Scottish Government over how this was allowed to go so wrong.

From the decision to detach the census from its counterpart elsewhere in the UK to the complexities of filling in the survey online, the Scottish Government has not covered itself in glory, Rennie said.

Rennie said: This matters because the census helps to inform how public services are delivered for the next decade. The minister needs to set out what kind of review of the census process will be done and how the government will be filling in the blanks.

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