Duncan Macniven, Registrar General, General Register Office for Scotland

With less than 100 days to go until census rehearsal day in west Edinburgh, Lewis and Harris, our census regional managers and their teams are busy preparing for the mid-March delivery of questionnaires to around 50,000 households.

We expect census rehearsal day – on 29 March – to show our strengths and any weaknesses. In fact, it is crucial to the success of Scotland’s next full census in 2011. The responses we receive will inform us how well people understand census questions – such as household income, national identity, ethnicity and the languages people speak. We can also gauge how well people understand the guidance that we provide on how to complete the questionnaires.

The rehearsal allows us to see how well our plans work to deliver questionnaires, by hand in towns and cities and by post in rural areas. We will also test how good our arrangements are to scan and process the questionnaires and how well our IT systems work. This is particularly important because we will give most households the option to complete their questionnaire online for the first time. The census website also allows us to offer British Sign Language support to deaf people and larger text options for people with difficulty seeing.

People want to know what happens to the personal details they provide on the rehearsal questionnaire. The rehearsal arrangements comply with the same security standards as the census will in two years time. Everyone working with personal census details is security checked and must sign an undertaking that they will protect the privacy of information. Anyone who discloses personal census details can be prosecuted under Data Protection and census confidentiality legislation. These strict measures apply to our contractors also. And we take special care of information held on computers – only GROS staff will be able to download data from the computers.

I am very grateful to the people in the rehearsal areas for giving us their time and co-operation in completing questionnaires on, or as soon as possible after, March 29. The Scotland-wide census is a once in a decade event, we need to rehearse our performance so that we can get it right for everyone in Scotland in 2011.

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