Chapter 2: Responding To Covid-19 And Long-Term Trends
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on our whole way of life. A clear priority is to reduce the economic, health, and social harm that the virus has brought. Infrastructure can help businesses and communities rebound.
The pandemic is a public health crisis, with unprecedented global economic consequences. Scotland, in common with economies across the world, is experiencing one of the largest economic shocks in history.
This has particularly hit construction, tourism and hospitality, food services, arts, entertainment and recreation sectors. Even where sectors have continued to trade, turnover is down, resulting in precarious cash flows. Consumer demand, how we travel, purchasing habits, and decision-making may see enduring changes as a result of the pandemic. Effects are particularly stark in hospitality, retail and aviation, for example. How we invest in infrastructure can help our recovery.
COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on all of our communities and people, but particularly those who were more disadvantaged to start with. This includes households on low incomes or in poverty, low-paid workers, children and young people, older people, disabled people, minority ethnic groups and women. Unless we take action, the legacy of the pandemic is likely to make outcomes more unequal across a range of social and economic aspects.
The pandemic has also impacted on different parts of Scotland differently. Our rural and island communities have faced a particular challenge, especially as a result of lockdown and the disruption to tourism and hospitality. Concerns around digital exclusion in rural areas have become even more acute as more of us have relied upon digital tools to help us work, study, and stay connected with each other. Coupled with withdrawal from the EU, the impact of the pandemic has the potential to reduce the economic participation and wellbeing of people in rural areas. Cities lost more employment vacancies at the height of lockdown than rural areas, and have been negatively affected by the closure of non-essential offices and their associated trade.
Alongside the harmful consequences, we have seen a number of potentially positive shifts that we can build upon. This includes positive examples of community cohesion and empowerment, new collaborative ways of working among public services and more person-centred support, reduced commuting, more flexible and remote working arrangements and making more use of digital channels to access services and support.
We now have a unique opportunity, not simply to go back to how things were, but to harness the scale and pace of such changes to drive positive outcomes and ensure our investment plans are founded in fairness and dignity, safeguarding equality.
We will ensure a focus on the following shifts in our capital investment, to seek to address the economic, health and social impacts of COVID-19:
- Investing in digital connectivity and digital inclusion to help businesses, workers and service users to accelerate the uptake of digital services and reducing the need to travel.
- Supporting safe active travel and local, accessible public services in vibrant places to sustain local communities.
- Supporting green and blue spaces to provide access to nature.
- Investing in local business opportunities and job-creation to preserve and generate employment to support economic recovery.
Infrastructure, once built, lasts for many years. As such, it is important to try to project ahead to consider likely future community needs and how the places we live in and the way we live might change. Before the pandemic, the Scottish Government had considered three key long-term trends which impact the provision of infrastructure:
- Climate change
- Technological developments
- Demographic change
- Typical summers will be warmer (as illustrated in figure below) and drier.
- Typical winters will be milder and wetter.
- Intense, heavy rainfall events will increase in both winter and summer.
- Sea levels will rise.
Figure shows projected changes, relative to the 1981-2000 average, in Scottish summer average temperatures under high and low global emissions scenarios. The shaded envelopes represent the uncertainty ranges for each scenario.
These changes will lead to a range of impacts, including:
Increased risk of flooding and disruptive storms: With climate change likely to alter rainfall patterns and bring more heavy downpours, we can expect flood risk to increase in the future, impacting on transport and energy networks and properties.
Change at our coast: With sea level rise set to accelerate, we can expect to see more coastal flooding, erosion and coastline retreat, with consequences for our coastal communities and supporting infrastructure.
Availability and quality of water: As our climate warms and rainfall patterns change, there may be increased competition for water between households, agriculture, industry and the needs of the natural environment.
An increase in the frequency and intensity of weather events is likely to impact infrastructure planning and operation. For example, our energy, transport, water, and ICT networks may face disruptive flooding, landslides, drought and heatwaves. Generating some types of renewable energy is weather-dependent. Climate also impacts on raw water quality which necessitates different and higher levels of treatment to meet drinking water quality standard.
In response to these changes, we need to adapt current infrastructure and design future assets to be more resilient to the effects of climate change. We also need to invest in natural infrastructure and nature-based solutions to climate change, which also help to tackle biodiversity loss and create wider socioeconomic benefits.
While technological change has been continuous over time, the size, speed and scope of technological change in recent years is unprecedented. The main trends we are seeing, related to infrastructure, are:
- Digitisation of services, systems and solutions and a clear trend towards automation
- Significantly more data creation, requiring common standards and cyber security
- A need for greater resilience and scale through cloud hosting
- Decentralised models of utility provision (e.g. energy) and services (tele-health)
This trend toward decentralisation, underpinned by digital services, has been accelerated in response to the COVID-19 crisis, where digital applications have proved their worth – for example, digitisation of some court procedures, greater use of video consultation in primary care, and online learning and teaching in schools and tertiary education. Many businesses have also made greater use of technologies or shifted to digital modes of provision.
Scotland's population has increased in past years, and is projected to continue to rise. The largest medium-term trends relate to the significant increase in our older population, and changes in where and in what household size people choose to live.
- All Councils will see an increase in pensioners with implications for services such as health, or the nature of housing required.
- The biggest change is a 71% forecast increase in the number of people aged over 75 in the next 25 years.
- There is a trend of predominantly older households in the West and South West areas.
- Rural Scotland faces particular challenges with population decline and 14 of our local authorities in rural areas are expected to experience population decrease over the next 10 years.
- Migration has been the main driver of population growth, and all the projected future increase is projected to come from migration (both overseas and rest of the UK).
- Numbers of working age population and children are reducing in the West, South West and Islands, and increasing in the East and North East.
- Cities experience most population growth through overseas in-migration, whilst seeing outward migration of Scots to surrounding areas.
- Single adult households are increasing at a much faster rather than all others.
- Dedicated university accommodation has reduced housing pressure in cities.
Source: National Records of Scotland, Population Projections (2018-based)
Shifting our approach in response
Our approach to infrastructure is shaped by an understanding of the challenges and opportunities these trends bring:
- Adapting to climate change as well as mitigating emissions
- Investing in natural infrastructure and nature-based solutions
- Enhanced digital infrastructure and storage
- Increased support for data sharing and digital public services
- Promote digital inclusion
- Meeting the needs of older people
- Services and homes where people choose to live
- Regenerating areas of working-age population decline