National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Background to Beyond 2011

Background to Beyond 2011

The census is currently the only national survey that systematically captures and records information about the population at small areas. It provides the official population count for Scotland and is the benchmark for many population and socio-demographic statistics. The results from the census help central and local government, health authorities, businesses and community groups to target resources and services to where they are needed. However, as the census is only conducted every ten years, statistics can quickly become out-of-date.

Fundamental changes in society have resulted in an increasingly mobile population and the development of more complex social structures (i.e. people regularly move between different areas and countries). This has made it more challenging to conduct the census and has led to a change in information requirements. There is now an increasing demand for more frequent, detailed and comparable population and socio-demographic information to be made available at a range of geographical levels (e.g. national, regional, local and small areas).

It is recognised across Scotland that the general public are becoming increasingly reluctant to respond to surveys. Improvements in technology and the growth of computerised records containing information on people and services (referred to as administrative sources) both in the public and private sectors could provide a solution. A system which makes use of these administrative sources to collate information that is already held about the population has the potential to provide a more cost-effective way of providing more frequent statistics, with reduced public burden.

The Beyond 2011 Programme was established by the National Records of Scotland (NRS) in September 2011 to explore the future provision of population and socio-demographic statistics in Scotland. The programme aims to investigate a range of alternative solutions to the traditional census, including the possibility of using administrative sources or developing a more cost-effective and efficient census design.

The decision to review the traditional census was agreed across the United Kingdom (UK). Scotland is working closely with colleagues in the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) to ensure a consistent and co-ordinated approach to the future production of UK population statistics.

The Beyond 2011 Programme is currently undertaking an extensive programme of research and consultation to explore alternatives to the traditional census. An evidence-based report containing recommendations for the future provision of timely and cost-effective population and socio-demographic statistics will be delivered to Ministers.

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