THE Scottish Government has launched an internal investigation after the four-week extension of the Census deadline was leaked before a ministerial statement was given in Holyrood.

Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary Angus Robertson was admonished by the presiding officer after press reports revealed that the deadline would be delayed after a quarter of forms, equating to over 600,000 households, had not been filled in.

The Scottish Government has assigned a further £9.76 million in funding to allow the extension to take place. The deadline was initially May 1, but has been pushed back until the end of the month. 

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PO Alison Johnstone reprimanded Robertson for the leak, adding that it was a “significant and important piece of information” that should have been heard in the chamber before making its way to press reports.

Prior to Robertson’s statement, Johnstone said that she had spoken to the minister for parliamentary business and demanded an explanation as to how the deadline extension made it into the public domain.

Robertson was allowed to go ahead with his statement, but had his speaking time reduced to just five minutes.

She added: “I'm sure that members share my dismay, yet again, we're using valuable parliamentary time addressing the inappropriate advanced sharing of part of a government statement.”

The National: Johnstone admonished the Scottish Government over the leak and said MSPs should have been told firstJohnstone admonished the Scottish Government over the leak and said MSPs should have been told first

Robertson offered a “fulsome apology” for the leak at the start of his statement.

He added: “We take this very seriously and we've commissioned an internal leak inquiry, which will be led by the Scottish Government's chief information security officer.

“They will liaise with the lead officials to determine who had access to this information and to check their data systems to see if the source of the breach can be identified through government systems.”

Robertson said that 77.2% of households had responded to the Census so far, but there were a number of outstanding forms to be returned - including people who had not fully completed the online form and others who had been posted paper copies but had not yet returned them.

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He added: ”I understand that many people may be dealing with other concerns. Recent world events have caused anxiety for many and have remained a focus for the media, quite rightly, in recent weeks.

“Closer to home people are still dealing with the impacts of Covid-19 and the cost of living crisis and given these challenges I appreciate another ask of people is difficult.

“However, I cannot stress enough how important it is for the Government to hear the voices of the remaining 604,000 households who are still to return before the deadline of Sunday May 1.”

Robertson told MSPs that field staff had visited over 988,000 households in Scotland to provide in person support, and that Census extensions have taken place internationally, including Poland, Japan and the United States of America.

The National: Robertson apologised to the parliament for the leak and said a probe had been launchedRobertson apologised to the parliament for the leak and said a probe had been launched

Census responses need “maximum participation” to work efficiently, he added.

Robertson said: “Completing the Census enables better decisions about things that matter to us all. It's essential we maximise participation and ensure that everyone is heard and their needs captured.

“It is vital that we secure as high a response rate as possible so that the census can be effective in delivering its many benefits for future public services.

“For those who have already completed their census, thank you. For those who are still to do so, I would urge you to act now.”

The National Records of Scotland (NRS) say that around 68,000 households have begun their census returns online but have not yet been completed and a similar number of requested paper forms have yet to be returned.

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Every household is legally required to complete their returns and people living in Scotland are reminded that failing to do so could result in prosecution and a fine of up to £1000.

NRS Chief Executive Paul Lowe added: “With May 1 deadline approaching we are continuing to receive a high volume of census returns both online and in paper and each day our contact centre is continuing to support many householders keen to submit their returns.

“We want to maximise this ongoing enthusiasm and support from across the nation to complete the census and so have put in place a short extension to ensure everyone’s return counts.

“Help and support to complete your census is available on our website or via our free helpline 0800 030 8308. Paper forms are also still available on request for those who need them.”