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Use and Understanding of the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification

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5 WHAT IS THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT URBAN RURAL CLASSIFICATION USED FOR AND WHY?

Making a distinction between urban and rural areas

5.1 During the online questionnaire, all respondents were asked to say if, in the course of their work, they made a distinction between urban and rural areas and a large majority (87% or 359 of the 412 respondents) said this was the case.

5.2 Reasons for not making a distinction between urban and rural in their work were given by 49 of the 53 respondents who said that they do not make a distinction. These reasons related primarily to whether or not they perceived a need to make this distinction and included:

  • No need to distinguish between urban and rural (18 respondents);
  • Only deal with rural areas / not applicable to urban areas (8);
  • Only deal with urban areas (6);
  • Work is the same whether carried out in urban or rural area (6);
  • Involved at national level (6);
  • Involved at regional level (5).

Awareness of the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification

5.3 All respondents were then asked whether they had been aware of the SG Urban Rural Classification prior to reading the information given in the survey; as can be seen in table 5.1, 81% said that they had.

  • Awareness of the SG Urban Rural Classification was highest among those working in NHS Boards;
  • Within Scottish Government specifically, awareness of the SG Urban Rural Classification was highest among those within the Education and Health Directorates.

Table 5.1 Awareness of the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification

Total
(412)

SG & others*
(171)

Local Authority
(92)

Other
(149)

Policy
(133)

Analyst
(279)

%

%

%

%

%

%

Yes

81

83

76

83

75

84

No

19

17

24

17

25

16

Source: QPA4: All respondents
* This category comprises Scottish Government, Scottish Government Agencies and the Scottish Parliament.

Usage of the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification

5.4 Those respondents who said that they were aware of the SG Urban Rural Classification and who make an urban rural distinction in the course of their work were then asked whether they use it. As shown in table 5.2, 72% said that they did.

Table 5.2 Use of the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification

Total
(296)

SG & others*
(121)

Local Authority
(58)

Other
(117)

Policy
(91)

Analyst
(205)

%

%

%

%

%

%

Yes

72

72

71

74

70

73

No

28

28

29

26

30

27

Source: QPA5; All respondents aware of SG Urban Rural Classification and who make an urban rural distinction
* This category comprises Scottish Government, Scottish Government Agencies and the Scottish Parliament.

5.5 Looking at those who make a rural / urban area distinction as part of their work, and who said that they were aware of the SG Urban Rural Classification:

  • Sub-group analysis shows highest levels of usage of the SG Urban Rural Classification were within Commercial Organisations (6 out of 6) and NHS Boards (16 out of 19). Lowest level of use was reported by Private Consultants (13 out of 21).

Reasons for using the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification

5.6 Those respondents who use the SG Urban Rural Classification were then asked to say why they use it.

Table 5.3 Reasons for using the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification

Total
(210)

SG & others*
(87)

Local Authority
(41)

Other
(82)

Policy
(60)

Analyst
(150)

%

%

%

%

%

%

As a standard variable in analysis

48

62

22

46

-

67

For statistical publications

35

39

32

33

38

34

Requested by colleagues in policy development

24

36

20

15

-

34

To define eligibility for funding

17

8

49

11

25

14

To help with (monitoring of) single outcome agreements

7

8

17

1

10

6

Academic analysis

24

14

7

43

-

33

Policy Development

24

21

32

23

83

-

For Ministerial / Political speeches, debates or briefings

5

7

7

1

17

-

Source: A10 (n=150), P10 (n=60)
* This category comprises Scottish Government, Scottish Government Agencies and the Scottish Parliament.

5.7 When we examine sub-group data in relation to the SG Urban Rural Classification:

  • Over half of those who use the SG Urban Rural Classification to define eligibility for funding were within Local Authorities;
  • Of the 9 analysts and 6 policy respondents who use the SG Urban Rural Classification to help with monitoring of single outcome agreements, almost half were working within Local Authorities;
  • Only a minority of analysts within Local Authorities used the SG Urban Rural Classification as a standard variable in analysis, compared with the majority of respondents from within Scottish Government and SG Agencies and all analysts responding from NHS Boards;
  • Usage of the SG Urban Rural Classification as a standard variable in analysis was highest (at least 4 in 5) within the Education, Justice & Community, Environment and Health Directorates of the SG; compared to under half in the Economy Directorate;
  • Highest proportions, almost half, of analysts using the SG Urban Rural Classification 'because it is requested by colleagues in policy development' were within Scottish Government;
  • Highest proportions of analysts using the SG Urban Rural Classification in relation to academic analysis came from within Universities / Colleges.

Reasons for not using the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification

5.8 Those who said they were aware of the SG Urban Rural Classification but reported that they did not use it were asked why and 74 respondents commented. Key reasons for not using the SG Urban Rural Classification were:

  • Not relevant to my type of work (26 respondents) - highest among analysts in SG;
  • Classification too detailed for needs (14);
  • Not needed to use it to date (9).

5.9 The telephone interviews aimed to investigate this issue in more detail and most of the non-users interviewed noted that this classification was simply not appropriate to their needs. For example, one respondent who used Acorn, DEFRA's Classification of Local Authority Districts and Unitary Authorities in England, PAF and SIMD claimed that their work had simply not taken them in the direction to use the SG Urban Rural Classification.

"We have used PAF to identify residential areas and business areas and then map data. Defra, we have used in England and Wales. Acorn has been used alongside crime data in England and Wales. PAF has been used the most because I can link the postcodes to other data areas."
(University, Researcher)

5.10 A respondent within the SG highlighted the simplicity of the Randall Definition and its consistency over time. They noted,

"We've used the Randall definition, primarily because it's very easy to remember and to apply without reference to any notes."

5.11 A small number of respondents participating in the interviews also referred to the fact that use (or non-use) of classifications was sometimes historical; a Local Authority respondent commented:

"I think the six-fold one - if I can be blunt about it - was what was used by my predecessors in my position …it was used for [our] Strategy back in 2007 and I felt no reason to change from using that."

Topic areas for which the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification is used

5.12 Respondents were asked with which topic areas they use the SG Urban Rural Classification and, as can be seen in table 5.4 below, the most widely cited was the area of Community / Population Change (46% of the total). For those respondents who only use the SG Urban Rural Classification and no other classifications, the most commonly reported topic area was the Economy / Economic Development.

Table 5.4 Topic areas for which the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification is used

Total
(213)

Policy
(64)

Analysts
(149)

Use SGURC only
(27)

SGUR & others
(186)

%

%

%

%

%

Communities / population change

46

47

46

26

49

Economy / economic development

36

44

32

44

34

Health & Wellbeing

36

33

38

15

39

Transport

27

28

26

19

28

Education & Lifelong Learning

25

20

27

15

26

Housing

24

25

24

11

26

Environment

23

28

21

11

25

Employment

21

19

21

22

20

Planning

21

34

15

15

22

Business

18

20

17

26

17

Tourism

15

22

12

-

17

Culture

14

14

13

4

15

Justice

9

11

8

7

9

Source: QPA11; those using SG Urban Rural Classification, n = 213

5.13 Sub group analysis shows that higher proportions of respondents within Local Authorities than within the Scottish Government used the SG Urban Rural Classification in relation to the area of Economy / Economic Development.

5.14 Other differences include:

  • Those in Commercial Organisations were more likely to use the SG Urban Rural Classification in the area of Business than those in the Scottish Government.
  • Not surprisingly, those respondents within the NHS were more likely to use the SG Urban Rural Classification in relation to Health and Wellbeing than any of the other sectors.

5.15 As could be expected, findings from the telephone interviews show that the topic areas for which the SG Urban Rural Classification is used relate in the main to the respondent's role and / or the organisation for which they work. However there was, once again, an element of historical usage, especially in projects where changes needed to be tracked over time.

Benefits of using the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification

5.16 Both policy and analyst respondents were asked to say what they felt were the benefits of using the SG Urban Rural Classification. As can be seen in chart 5.1, the main perception from both types of respondent was that the SG Urban Rural Classification allows comparisons to be made for urban rural areas across Scotland.

Chart 5.1 Benefits of using the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification

Chart 5.1 Benefits of using the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification

Source: A12 n=148, P12 n=58

5.17 There was a difference regarding the perception that the SG Urban Rural Classification 'allows comparisons to be made across urban / rural areas throughout Scotland' with analysts working in the SG much more likely to cite this reason than those working in Local Authorities. In addition, those working within the NHS were significantly more likely to identify 'availability at postcode level' as a benefit than Private Consultants.

5.18 Those using the SG Urban Rural Classification in the topic areas of Employment and Housing were most likely to identify 'allows comparisons to be made for urban rural areas across Scotland' as a benefit, as were those using the SG Urban Rural Classification in the area of Justice, although this had a much lower base size. Those working in the areas of Business were least likely to identify 'allows comparisons to be made for urban rural areas across Scotland' as a benefit.

5.19 Respondents participating in the telephone discussions perceived a number of key benefits to using the SG Urban Rural Classification. Noted by many was that this is a straightforward and easy to use classification, using a common reference point and language that can be applied and compared across Scotland. Information is also provided on how the data is derived. In the words of one researcher,

"It's an official and recognised classification that allows comparisons to be made across Scotland."

5.20 One analyst noted that the SG Urban Rural Classification is flexible to use and available at multiple geographies. It was also noted by some that this classification is useful in applying for funding or in allocating funding to specific projects. One Local Authority analyst noted the benefit of a classification that can be used consistently across different Local Authorities,

"It kind of gives a different approach really, and it helps me …. to try and get a consistent approach across different parts of the Council, which is often a problem. Lots of councils do different things and classify things in different ways, so if there is a standard approach, (even if it is not perfect and they have some issues in consistency overall), singing from the same hymn sheet."

Limitations / complications in using the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification

5.21 Both analyst and policy respondents were asked to identify any limitations or complications in using the SG Urban Rural Classification. Answers were not pre-coded, rather, respondents could provide free-text responses. As respondents generally only compose free-text responses if they have a particular point to raise, this may have contributed to a lower number of responses to this question (93 respondents, 38 policy and 55 analyst) and the corresponding small numbers giving any one answer.

5.22 It should be emphasised that these are perceptions and some may reflect misunderstandings over the use of the classification. For example, the discrepancy between postcode area and data zones may be overstated; data zones, while not a perfect match to post codes, are an almost perfect match to Local Authorities. The following perceptions came from a mix of both policy and analyst respondents unless stated:

  • No limitations (8 respondents);
  • Not consistent with classifications used in rest of UK / difficult to make comparisons with rest of UK (8 analysts);
  • Data zone does not match LA boundaries, postcode areas (7);
  • Does not take local conditions into account / local level discrepancies (7);
  • Not suitable for islands / doesn't distinguish between types of island settlement (7);
  • Lack of continuity / frequent updates make it difficult to identify change over time (5);
  • Focus on settlement size / population based (5);
  • Difficult to understand, use / statistical literacy required to use effectively / too technical for layperson (5);
  • Definitions are not rigorous / insufficient distinction between categories (4);
  • Not suitable for areas with low population density (4);
  • Limited use in rural areas / rural dimension not sufficiently developed / too urban oriented / urban bias (4);
  • Information may not be up to date / not regularly updated (4 analysts).

5.23 Comments made during the telephone discussions highlighted these limitations and identified some more. Several said that they thought that the SG Urban Rural Classification is not the most appropriate in the more remote parts of Scotland, primarily within the Highlands and Islands region. There was a view that the use of settlement size and drive time is not always appropriate for these more remote areas, where some small settlements will play an important role as a service centre within their region.

5.24 For respondents who are conducting cross-border analysis, often within an academic setting or working for organisations that are UK-wide, a limitation of the SG Urban Rural Classification was that it does not allow for cross-border analysis or comparison of data with the rest of the UK. This was not unique to the SG Urban Rural Classification but was also noted as a limitation for other urban rural classifications.

5.25 A number of respondents referred in some way to a need for IT skills and expertise. Two respondents perceived that users of this classification need to reach a certain skills level to be able to use this. Another analyst within a Local Authority noted that he had a clear understanding of how this, and other classifications, could be used and that he provided 'less classification literate' colleagues with the information they needed.

5.26 One recently appointed analyst noted that they had not used the SG Urban Rural Classification as they did not understand the underlying principles or how to apply this in their work.

5.27 There were some concerns that changes over time impact upon usage of the classification and one analyst noted he was still working with an older version of the SG Urban Rural Classification to maintain consistency in his work. One analyst noted,

"Changes over time can make things inconsistent. There was an update recently which led to the reclassification of some of the smaller towns. Some smaller villages were aggregated up and classified as one larger settlement and this caused issues when people asked questions about why the classifications had changed. People on the ground who don't understand the ins and outs of the system are confused by changes like this and it can be difficult to explain."

5.28 Overall, while respondents outlined some limitations of this classification, most respondents did not feel there was a more suitable alternative and had the intention of continuing to work with this because the benefits outweighed the limitations. However, two organisations have been instrumental in developing their own classification, at least in part because of the perceived limitations of the SG Urban Rural Classification. These were the Fragility System developed by HIE and the Scottish Small Towns Task Group undertaken by Scottish Enterprise / COSLA ( Appendix 3 provides further detail on these two classifications). One individual in a Local Authority noted,

"This [ SG Urban Rural Classification] doesn't allow for inclusion of how cities / towns interrelate with their hinterlands. For example, on the Islands or in very rural areas where one town which may be relatively small, it is in fact a service centre for quite a wide area. You may want to take in a range of industries, employment opportunities, housing options, tourism, countryside leisure and a whole range of factors ie a less simple way of categorising urban and rural. Scottish Enterprise has developed a typology based on types of place - Scotland is split into 317 places / town districts, based on the economic geography of Scotland."

5.29 While the Fragility System has been developed for use in the Highlands and Islands region, there was a suggestion that this could also be used in other remote rural areas such as Dumfries & Galloway or the Borders where there are small towns that act as major service centres both for the small town and its hinterland. Another respondent hypothesised that the Scottish Small Towns Task Group Classification could be used across Scotland as a whole.

Frequency of use

5.30 Respondents were asked how regularly, on average, they used the SG Urban Rural Classification. As chart 5.2 demonstrates, across the online sample as a whole, the average number of times the SG Urban Rural Classification is used per year is 3.3.

Chart 5.2: Regularity of using the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification

Chart 5.2: Regularity of using the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification

Source: PA14 n=213
does not add to 100% due to rounding

5.31 The highest level of usage was reported by Commercial Organisations (average = 6.75 times per year) and respondents within the Scottish Government (average = 3.6 times per year).

In summary,

  • A large majority of those responding to the online survey make a distinction between urban and rural areas in their work. Where this distinction is not made, this is generally due to a perceived lack of relevance to their work.
  • Around half the online respondents use the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification specifically and appear to be largely satisfied with the way this has been developed and how it can be used in their work.
  • The SG Urban Rural Classification is most commonly used in the topic areas of Communities / Population Change.
  • 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 and easy to use;
    • Uses a common reference point and language that can be applied and compared across Scotland;
    • Is flexible to use;
    • Is available at multiple geographies;
    • Is useful in applying for funding or in allocating funding to specific projects;
    • Can be used consistently across all Scottish Local Authorities.
  • There are some perceived limitations associated with the SG Urban Rural Classification though some of these may reflect misunderstandings over the use of the classification. Limitations identified by respondents included:
    • Lack of consistency with classifications used in rest of UK or that it is difficult to make comparisons with rest of UK;
    • Data zone does not match LA boundaries, postcode areas;
    • Does not take local conditions into account / local level discrepancies;
    • 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 layperson.
  • Key reasons for non-usage of the SG Urban Rural Classification are its perceived lack of relevance, or that is has not been needed to date. In addition, some mentioned that the classification is too detailed for requirements; this seems to indicate a lack of awareness of the 2-fold classification which although commonly used is not described in the guidance for the SG Urban Rural Classification.