Census HQ ready to start recruiting

The 180,000 sq ft secure site in Trafford Park that will process millions of completed census forms from England and Wales next March is now fully equipped and ready to take in the first of its 1,300 staff for training.

The centre, run by UK Data Capture, will take delivery of 26m paper questionnaires which will be sorted, scanned and shredded on site. Forms completed online will also be handled at the unnamed site.

In March 2011, each household in England and Wales will receive a questionnaire either through the post or delivered by hand. The questionnaires can then be completed and returned by post or by using a new secure online questionnaire.

ONS Census Operations Director, Ian Cope, said: "We are now just four months away from census day on the 27 March 2011, and the completion of this secure facility is an important milestone in the census operation. The 1,300 staff will play a vital role in turning the data gathered on the questionnaires into the information that will be used by central and local government to plan local services for the future. The processing centre is where we turn all the ticks and written answers into numbers that everyone can use to allocate resources, plan policies and help people in future learn more about where they live."

The Manchester site has the capacity to unload around 160,000 census questionnaires hourly from delivery lorries. The site can scan over 9,000 of the questionnaires an hour, the equivalent of 270,000 pages – taking around half a second to scan each household questionnaire.

Every questionnaire tick box and every written response for what job people do, what languages they speak and what ethnic group they are from, is given a code by the Manchester centre. Where written answers are not clear, a team of operators will be on hand to decipher what people wrote to ensure forms are correctly coded – but the staff don't get to see the public's names or the whole questionnaire to ensure confidentiality.

The public may have given the same information in different ways, for example by saying they are a primary school teacher or Year One teacher and are from Holland or the Netherlands – the coding is designed so all are counted in the same way. All the details once captured in Manchester, are then sent for collective analysis to ONS in Titchfield, Hampshire, from where the first results of the 2011 Census are expected in summer 2012.

The Manchester site was chosen after a nationwide search for a location that had good transport links, a suitable workforce and could provide a secure environment.

Recruitment is now under way for the 1,300 staff needed at the facility. The jobs range from team managers and team leaders to data handling roles and will last from six months up to a year.

The data processing centre in Manchester forms part of the wider 2011 Census programme that will create 35,000 temporary jobs across England and Wales.

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