The accuracy of the census has been called into question by various councils. This is because their budgets are calculated based on the figures from the census. They are worried that the census might not count enough people to allow them to keep their budgets.
I’m not sure if this is just shroud waving based on the premise that even though they might really have a lower population they still need the existing grant levels to keep paying the salary of their CEO. Or it could be that the council really do have a problem with too many people using their services and they are stretched to breaking point.
But reading about how the ONS works out the addresses to send the census forms to it seems to me that the the councils should have accurate figures already. The ONS does have a single address database, and they get their addresses from the Royal Mail, the National Land and Property Gazetteer, and Ordnance Survey. These are organisations that the councils inform about the existence of properties or who send their data to the council. For instance the council informs the Royal Mail of new properties that have been built and also the names of new streets. The OS allows the councils to use their maps so that the council can map out their coverage using GIS tools. The council should have some idea of their constituents from the council tax figures.
So the need for a census doesn’t seem so clear cut. There is a case for a pure statistical role of analysing the population and how it’s changing and moving around. Even with a small state that doesn’t plan everything down to the last nail and bolt, I believe there is still a need for statistical analysis of what’s going on in the country, even if only for the scientific purpose of studying human populations. But it needn’t be at such a huge cost nor have to be a census on a particular day.
However, the information from the census will date a lot more quickly than it has done in the past. The modern population is a lot more mobile than in past generations. In the past people did move to go where the jobs were. In fact it wasn’t unusual for whole villages to empty when the jobs disappeared. But it was on longer timescales than now. The average time that someone lives in one place is now only around 7 years. So it’s purpose for setting out council grants for years into the future doesn’t seem quite so valid.
I would argue that rather than spend £100’s of millions to work out how to spend £billions from the taxes that are collected nationally, it would be more efficient for councils to collect their own taxes instead of the national ones and spend the money locally. So VAT would be levied at a local level, income tax would be set locally, property tax would be collected locally as it is now, and wages would be set locally rather than nationally.
Some would argue that this would lead to a postcode lottery of taxes. Well, actually that would be the point of it. Just like countries can set different tax rates to either stop or encourage certain types of businesses or people to come to their country, so will councils. And councils, being closer to the coal face will know more about their own demands and needs. And constituents of the council will also be closer to the decision makers and so be able to influence the direction their councils take.
So some councils in deprived areas will have low wages and low tax income and might not be able to do all the things a rich council will do. That doesn’t mean that these council will have slums, it only means that some things that are luxuries will not happen in the poorer councils. Things like having expensive buildings designed and built, statues and other artworks placed in public locations, etc.
However the poor councils will be attractive to businesses as it means that businesses will have lower overheads in terms of taxes and wages. Over time such areas will thrive and different areas will lose out as they make bad decisions about how to tax and spend or some event occurs which means they lose their unique selling point. Over an even longer time there will never be a steady state, just a constant state of flux as each area sets its taxes according to the demands of the moment.