THE cost of Scotland’s census has ballooned by 18%, the records office has revealed, with taxpayers now set to spend more than £138 million on the exercise.

The National Records of Scotland (NRS) said on Tuesday that costs had increased by £21.6m because of the Scottish Government’s decision to delay the census as Covid-19 ripped through the country, with the Government now covering the increase.

Stephen Boyle, the Auditor General for Scotland, said the virus had “significantly impacted” its census plans, resulting in ministers’ decision to delay it by a year.

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“The census programme began to face challenges in 2018,” Mr Boyle said. “NRS took steps to strengthen the programme and is now in a better position to deliver the census, which is a key source of information to help the public sector plan services and funding.”

In July last year the Scottish Government decided to delay the census from March 2021 to March 2022. In the rest of the UK the census went ahead as planned in March.

The census was originally budgeted to cost £117m, but is now forecast to cost £138.6m.

The NRS said the census was a complex programme to deliver and one of the Scottish Government’s biggest current IT projects.

It said it had “acted to improve the management of the programme but has faced considerable challenges, including the impact of the pandemic on programme costs and difficulty recruiting suitably qualified staff”.

The census is set to be the first primarily digital census. Normally it relies on a field workforce, going door-to-door across Scotland to help achieve a high response rate and ensure statistical quality.

The national lockdown and physical distancing rules put in place to limit the spread of Covid-19, the NRS said, meant that the field workforce was not expected to be able to operate as usual in March this year and the records office said it considered the lack of people going door-to-door as one of a number of risks to the delivery of the census.