THE cost of Scotland’s census conducted out of sync with the rest of the UK has been revealed.

The project is forecast to cost £140 million, according to figures obtained by the Scottish LibDems through a freedom of information request.

Total spending to the end of March this year was £135m and the National Records of Scotland (NRS) has budgeted for an extra £5m for the next two financial years, the party said.

This is more than double the cost of the 2011 census which was £63.5m and saw a higher return rate of 94%.

Last year’s census was thought to be the first conducted at a different time from counts in the rest of the UK – which critics said led to the increased cost of the project.

The Scottish project initially saw the lowest response rate in the UK and the project had to be extended by a month, which the NRS estimated to cost an extra £6m.

By extending the deadline, the response rate was taken from 79% to 89%, though this still fell short of the original target rate of 90%.

A forecast published in an Audit Scotland report from September last year showed the NRS expected the total cost of the project to be £144.6m.

LibDem MSP Willie Rennie said: “Going it alone was a foolish decision from SNP ministers. The Auditor General warned that this led to increased costs and additional work.

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“Taxpayers have ended up paying far more for fewer people to respond.

“Ministers made significant changes including moving the census online and getting out of sync with data collection elsewhere in the UK. Then they refused to learn any lessons out of nationalistic belligerence.

“Now we are seeing the exorbitant price tag, it just hammers home to the public once again that the SNP cannot be trusted to deliver a project on time.

“What’s even worse is that botching the census will now have a knock-on effect on the delivery of government services for the next decade.

“The Cabinet Secretary in charge needs to set out what kind of review of the census process will be done and how the government will ensure that these errors are not repeated.”

A spokesperson for the National Records of Scotland said: “The census provides unique data which helps local authorities, businesses, charities and central government plan a wide range of vital public services, to improve the lives of those living and working in Scotland.

“No other survey provides the range of information that the census does.

“Estimates from censuses elsewhere have shown that every £1 spent on census, returns around £5 in economic benefit. 

Whilst much of the costs of the census are focused on key delivery years, most long-term benefits are felt throughout the extended programme life-cycle, after the collection phases. 

“NRS has continued to ensure we only spend what we need to deliver a census and its associated benefits.

“Where efficiencies can be made they have been to ensure we maintain value for public money.

“An evaluation of Scotland’s census 2022, with a focus on lessons learned for any future census and other complex programmes, will be prepared for ministers and provided to Parliament by the end of 2024. 

“89% of responses were received via the online platform and 11% via paper form. This split is the same as that seen in the 2021 England and Wales Census.”