We are testing a new beta website for gov.scot go to new site

Use and Understanding of the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification

Listen

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Background

The Scottish Government ( SG) wishes to ensure that policy makers consider how needs differ between urban and rural areas of Scotland and adapt policies to meet local circumstances. This will ensure that effort can be directed towards the Scottish Government purpose of sustainable economic growth, and that everyone has the opportunity to participate and contribute, no matter where people live. To develop a better understanding of the particular circumstances and needs in urban areas, small towns, rural and remote areas requires a consistent classification system.

The Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification 1 was first released in 2000 (when it was called the Scottish Household Survey Urban Rural Classification). This definition uses two key criteria - settlement size and drive time to major settlements. The six fold classification distinguishes between urban, rural and remote areas and includes the following categories. These can be combined into broader categories.

Category

Definition

1 Large Urban Areas

Settlements of over 125,000 people.

2 Other Urban Areas

Settlements of 10,000 to 125,000 people.

3 Accessible Small Towns

Settlements of between 3,000 and 10,000 people and within 30 minutes drive of a settlement of 10,000 or more.

4 Remote Small Towns

Settlements of between 3,000 and 10,000 people and with a drive time of over 30 minutes to a settlement of 10,000 or more.

5 Accessible Rural

Settlements of less than 3,000 people and within 30 minutes drive of a settlement of 10,000 or more.

6 Remote Rural

Settlements of less than 3,000 people and with a drive time of over 30 minutes to a settlement of 10,000 or more.

Study Objectives

This study was commissioned, by the SG, in order to gather information on the extent to which this classification is used, how it is used and by whom.

Methodology

The study combined an on-line questionnaire and telephone interviews. Questionnaires were received from 412 people and, from these, 30 were selected for the telephone interviews, which were designed to explore issues identified in the analysis of the questionnaire responses. Data collection was preceded by a desk based study to review work using urban rural classifications and develop the questionnaire. Fieldwork was carried out in February and March 2009.

Summary of Desk Research Findings

The desk research identified that the way urban and rural areas are defined has changed over time. Currently several urban rural classifications are being used in the UK, with different systems for Scotland, England and Wales, and Northern Ireland. The key system identified as being used in Scotland is the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification. In recent years two new classification systems have been developed for very specific purposes in Scotland - the Fragility Index (Highlands & Islands Enterprise) and the Small Town Classification (Scottish Enterprise and COSLA).

Respondent Profile

The sample was largely drawn from SG distribution lists which included those with a rural interest, those who had registered with ScotStat and those who already received information on the SG Urban Rural Classification. Just over half those who participated in the online survey worked within either the SG (30%) or a Local Authority (22%). The sample included users in the NHS, in universities and in private consultancy or commercial organisations. Just under one in three described themselves as an analyst, just over a quarter described themselves as a researcher; and a third categorised themselves as a policy maker/policy influencer. The responses of policy makers and analysts/researchers were analysed separately.

What the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification is used for

A large majority of respondents (87%) make a distinction between urban and rural areas in their work. Those who do not make a distinction said this was because such a distinction was not of relevance, rather than because of reservations about classification systems.

Over 80% of the sample were aware of the SG Urban Rural Classification and, of these, nearly three quarters made use of it; that is around half of the initial sample.

Users appear to be largely satisfied with how it can be used in their work. Respondents identified its use in a wide range of topic areas. The most commonly identified were population, community, and economy.

While most of the policy makers said that the Classification is used to aid policy development, for analysts it is seen primarily as a standard variable for analysis and presentation of data. A third of the analysts said that they use it in response to demands from policy colleagues.

About a quarter of policy respondents, and half of all respondents in local government, said that they used it to establish eligibility for funding. A number of respondents (especially those in local government) also referred to its relevance to monitoring Single Outcome Agreements. However, it should also be noted that SIMD was mentioned by a greater number of respondents in relation to funding and Single Outcome Agreements.

How the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification is used

The analyst respondents provided a long list of data sources to which they apply the SG Urban Rural Classification. The most frequently mentioned was the Scottish Household Survey, but it is also applied to other secondary data sources including ONS and SG surveys and the Census, and to primary data sources including administrative data.

The most widely used breakdown is the 6-fold classification, which distinguishes between urban, rural and remote areas.

The online survey showed that attitudes towards the SG Urban Rural Classification are largely positive and this impression was reinforced by comments from respondents participating in the telephone interviews.

Benefits and weaknesses

Key perceived benefits of this classification are that it:

  • allows comparisons to be made for urban rural areas across Scotland;
  • is an officially recognised classification that fits with other datasets;
  • is straightforward, easy and flexible to use;
  • is available for a range of geographies; for example post codes, output areas or data zones;
  • is useful in determining eligibility for funding;
  • can be used consistently across all Scottish Local Authorities.

Respondents identified some limitations which they associate with the SG Urban Rural Classification. It should be emphasised that these are perceptions and may indicate misunderstandings over the use of the classification. Perceived limitations included:

  • Lack of consistency with classifications used in the rest of the UK so that it is difficult to make comparisons with rest of UK;
  • Does not take local conditions into account / local level discrepancies;
  • Data zone does not match Local Authority boundaries / postcode areas;
  • Not suitable for islands / does not distinguish between types of island settlement or those with low population density;
  • Lack of continuity over time / changes to boundaries;
  • Focus on settlement size / population based / drive time;
  • It can be difficult to understand / use, that a degree of statistical literacy is required to use it effectively or that it is too technical for a layperson;
  • The categories are too detailed for requirements.

Awareness and Use of Other Geographical Classifications and Databases

Respondents were asked about their awareness and use of other geographic classifications and databases. While the level of awareness for the SG Urban Rural Classification was high, the classification with the highest level of awareness was the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation ( SIMD), which is not an urban rural classification but is used to identify concentrations of multiple deprivation across Scotland. Awareness of others varies; almost half of respondents were aware of the Royal Mail's Postcode Address File ( PAF). One in ten were aware of the Randall Definition; a system which classifies 14 Local Authorities as rural based on their low population density.

Among other geographic classifications used, the SIMD was used most often by respondents. Other systems used by respondents include DEFRA's Classification of Local Authority Districts and Unitary Authorities in England, PAF and the socio-geographic segmentation systems Acorn or Mosaic.

The online survey shows that respondents tend to use more than one geographical classification system in their analysis. Almost 90% of the users of the SG Urban Rural Classification named another geographical classification system that they used (most commonly SIMD). Almost a fifth of that sample used other classifications but not the SG Classification.

Just under a fifth of analysts conduct cross-border or UK-wide analysis, involving the use of different Urban Rural Classifications, and they identified problems in the lack of comparability with the rest of the UK because the classifications are based on different definitions.

Adequacy of Information and Communication about the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification

A majority of respondents (64%) said they have access to all the information and associated guidance they need, and agreed that the information and associated guidance is clear and easy to understand (69%). However, it is worth noting that 17% of those who responded that they did not know whether they had access to the information they need, and 23% did not know whether the available guidance was clear.

There are some indications of the need for more information to be provided to existing and potential users of the SG Urban Rural Classification. For example, although SG officials say that funding within the life of a programme will not be affected by changes to the classification, a small number of telephone interviewees were unclear about whether funding for existing programmes could be affected by changes in the classification. The existing guidance focuses on the six and eight fold classification and some users seemed unaware of the less detailed categories. Problems in matching data zones to local authority boundaries may in reality not be as great as some respondents believe.

A majority of users use each update of the SG Urban Rural Classification when it becomes available, although just over 1 in 5 is unaware as to what version they are using. A quarter are not using the most recent update from August 2008. For some this was to maintain consistency of geographic boundaries over time.

While the ScotStat network is widely perceived to be an appropriate vehicle for information updates, not all telephone respondents (when questioned) were aware of this or had registered with it. There is an expectation that information is available via the SG website.

Conclusions

Although it has to be borne in mind that the survey sample was largely drawn from SG distribution lists which included those with a rural interest, those who had registered with ScotStat and those who already received information on the SG Urban Rural Classification, the results from this study provide a generally positive assessment and show that:

Awareness of the SG Urban Rural Classification is fairly high and, on the whole, those who use the classification appear to be largely satisfied with the way it has been developed and have few problems using it.

Generally people felt they were able to make sensible choices about which classification system was most appropriate for their work.

There was a reasonably high level of satisfaction with the availability and content of support material, but respondents did put forward a range of suggestions for how it might be improved.

Suggestions for promoting the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification in the future

  • Respondents suggested that, as well as providing information on the SG website, it would be useful to provide a named individual and telephone number as a single point of contact for queries that cannot be answered on the FAQ section of the website.
  • Consider a better system for informing all existing and potential users of the SG Urban Rural Classification. This would ensure that information in relation to the SG Urban Rural Classification is provided to all relevant individuals and would help to maintain and increase awareness and usage of the classification.
  • Examine ways in which the SG Urban Rural Classification can be used alongside other forms of classification and demonstrate how these can be used to complement each other for analysis.
  • Respondents suggested providing additional information in the form of case histories and practical examples to existing and potential users to demonstrate ways in which the SG Urban Rural Classification can be applied. This is particularly important for users and potential users who are not statisticians or who may be infrequent users.