Survey of production

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A survey of production is conducted by a government, of businesses within its jurisdiction, to obtain economic data needed for the compilation of national accounts, and other purposes. For practical reasons it is often not reasonable to obtain information from all possible business units, so that only a subset are contacted.


Questionnaires are distributed to businesses, asking for information on various aspects of their operations. Sometimes completion of the questionnaires is voluntary; sometimes it is required by law. Typically, information is requested on the business's purchases, output, sales, capital expenditures and numbers of workers employed.

The level of detail asked for varies considerably. For example, regarding purchases, it may be that all that is asked for is a single figure representing total purchases, or it may be that a breakdown of purchases by type of commodity is requested.


In the United Kingdom, the first "Census of Production" was carried out in respect of 1907, under the authority of the 1906 Census of Production Act; however, some of the topics it covered had been the subject of government surveys for a long time before then. The Board of Trade – equivalent of the modern British Department of Trade and Industry; was formed in 1786, and from a fairly early point in its existence began collecting trade statistics, albeit in a not very well-organised manner. However, in 1832 a separate department for statistics-gathering was formed within the Board, and began publishing a yearbook. Although the yearbook's main focus was on import-export trade, it contained some information on domestic commercial activities. By the 1870s, considerable amounts of information were being gathered by various branches of government on employment and wages, and on agriculture. The first Census of Wages was conducted in 1886.

Although the 1906 Census of Productions Bill was introduced by David Lloyd George and had opposition support from Joseph Chamberlain, it was met with considerable suspicion by manufacturers, and several Members of Parliament expressed concerns about it, including that the manufacturers were "sacrificing their liberty to a gang of clerks in Downing street."[citation needed] Another concern was that manufacturers' trade secrets would be compromised.[citation needed]

The unit for the Census was the "establishment", essentially a single business location, although minor ancillaries such as offices, warehouses, laboratories, and canteens, could be subsumed under it. A single company could have several "establishments". In 1958, the size of the unit was increased to the "business unit": a firm or company or group of companies, but in 1963 the unit reverted to the "establishment". In 1987, company-based reporting was again instituted. Also at that time, the scope of the survey was expanded to include all activity, not just production activity; and activity was classified to the industry of the company.[1]

In 1998, the Census of Production was subsumed into the "Annual Business Inquiry", later the Annual Business Survey, which also replaced and integrated the Annual Census of Construction, the Purchases Inquiry, the Annual Employment Survey, and the six surveys covering the distribution and services sector: retail, wholesale, motor trades, catering, property, and (other) services.[2]


  1. Smith and Penneck, section 8.1.
  2. Smith and Penneck, section 6.1.