Scotland's delayed census making good progress but challenges remain

30 November 2021
The 2020/21 audit of National Records of Scotland

Scotland's census has faced considerable challenges and is expected to cost £21.6 million more than originally planned. Careful management is needed to ensure its successful delivery in March 2022.

In July 2020, Scottish Ministers decided to delay the next census from March 2021 to March 2022 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This has had a significant financial impact on the National Records of Scotland (NRS), the public body responsible for planning and running the census in Scotland. Overall costs have increased by £21.6 million (18 per cent) over the lifetime of the programme, against the pre-pandemic estimate of £117 million. The Scottish Government has provided funding to cover this increase.

The census is a complex programme and one of the Scottish Government’s biggest current ICT projects. NRS has acted to improve the management of the programme but has faced considerable challenges, including the impact of the pandemic on programme costs and difficulties recruiting suitably qualified staff.

Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland, said:

The Covid-19 pandemic significantly impacted NRS’s plans for running Scotland’s census, resulting in ministers' decision to delay by a year.

The census programme began to face challenges in 2018. NRS took steps to strengthen the programme and is now in a better position to deliver the census successfully in March 2022. It is crucial that NRS continues to monitor and manage ongoing risks to deliver the census, which is a key source of information to help the public sector plan services and funding.