Last night’s Wandsworth Local Strategic Partnership heard about the planning for next year’s census, despite it being well over a year away.

The 2011 census is going to be undertaken in much the same way as they were when they first started in the nineteenth century (and try as I might, I’m not sure I can think of a better way without it being hideously labour intensive) basically every household gets mailed a form which they have to complete and return. And if they don’t, someone knocks on their door to chase it up.

But that system brought problems in the 2001 census, which significantly undercounted the population in Wandsworth and many other boroughs. This has severe consequences, since many government grants and other funding is linked to census data – so if that’s underreporting, the council is then underfunded. We had a long battle with the Office of National Statistics over our population date following the 2001 census.

And Wandsworth is full of people who may well escape the census. From the twenty-somethings who are renting and moving regularly who just don’t get round to completing it and then move and move again before anyone realises, to some of the recent immigrant communities who may be suspicious of the state’s motives or may not understand English.

Obviously employing the right people, with local knowledge, to undertake the follow-ups will help – but I’m not sure that the Wandsworth population has become any more stable in the intervening 10 years, there’s still significant churn and still significant groups of fairly recent immigrants, so it’s something we’ll have to be watching closely.