Place-based policy approaches to population challenges: Lessons for Scotland

This report by the independent Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population analyses a range of place-based policy approaches to population challenges (including zonal approaches), and sets out lessons for Scotland.


1 Defined as predominantly rural and intermediate according to a Eurostat urban-rural classification.

2 Defined as a process through which a locality (even if relatively accessible in geographic terms) becomes increasingly disconnected from the global economy. Not to be confused with the locational disadvantage of peripherality.

3 See for example Annex 4 for a detailed analysis of satisfaction with service provision as a potential driver of rural depopulation and discussion of how a closer analysis of assumptions might assist in defining the most effective types of policy intervention.

4 This term describes the tendency for infrastructure improvements to benefit central places more than remote localities. E.g. A road improvement may encourage the residents of remote villages to travel to a distant supermarket, taking trade away from a village shop, and ultimately undermining its viability.

5 The European Network For Rural Development’s definition of “smart village” (ENRD 2019) is deliberately flexible in terms of spatial units, roughly equating to “community”. Coming at the issue from a different direction there has been some discussion of the concept of ‘functional rural areas’, as a counterpart to the functional urban areas which are the basis of city-region policy (Copus et al 2021). However functional rural areas can at present best be described as a nascent idea, for which there is no generally accepted definition. They form part of the remit of a new Horizon Europe project (RUSTIK).

6 A previous EAG report explored local authority initiatives to attract and retain population and noted a risk of ‘unhelpful competition between local authorities, potentially resulting in a zero-sum game to attract migrants from other areas of Scotland’ (EAG 2020)

7 Notes: i) Estimated by aggregating data-zones classified according to the Scottish Government Urban-Rural Classification 2020 and the James Hutton Institute SPA classification. ii) Black dashed line is Scotland average.

8 The data in this table are drawn from the datasets compiled from published census material and mapped up to 2001 in Anderson and Roughley (2018), pp. 58-61. Data are for persons present up to 1991 and for persons resident from 1991. Civil counties were the principal top tier local authority administrative units in Scotland from the medieval period until local government reform in 1975, and their boundaries remained fairly constant from the 1890s. Below them, the only relatively constant units were civil parishes, and NRS has continued to publish census data for civil parishes using 1930 boundaries. Most parishes fitted into a single county, so post 1975 civil parish data can still be grouped into the old civil county spatial units, thus allowing consistent analysis over time. To help to maintain consistency due to subsequent boundary changes over time, a small number of parishes have been paired. Where parishes crossed county boundaries, the whole parish has been allocated to only one county (so that, for example, Ardgour/ Kilmallie, the principal parish for Fort William, is here allocated to Inverness, and Troqueer to Dumfries). Aberdeen and Old Machar are excluded. A few ‘mainland’ parishes include small islands.

9 The 2011 census already found more than 30 per cent of workers in one in seven of Scotland’s parishes, almost all of them remote and rural, working from home.

10 2021 data are excluded, since it is as yet unclear whether a new pattern of change has begun, or whether the data for that year will prove anomalous in the longer term. A small proportion of data-zone had more than one identical peak populations. In these cases the more recent year was taken as the beginning of shrinking.

11 Note: shrinking data-zones defined as those with an average percentage loss of population of more than 1% per year, over at least 10 consecutive years.

12 A third option, the Intermediate Areas, which are groups of data-zones, which have no administrative status, was explored. However, many intermediate areas comprise a relatively small number of data-zones, and therefore the two indicators (% data-zones and % population) have a rather unhelpful distribution.

13 Facts and Figures for Socialists, 1951, Labour Party Research Department, cited in Wikipedia article on the Distribution of Industry Act 1945 (retrieved 28.11.2022)

14 Working group themes: i) Good partnerships for strong families, ii) Youth shapes the future, iii) Motivated, qualified and healthy work, vi) Self-determined life in old age, v) Alliance for people with dementia, vi) Strengthen regions in demographic change - promote quality of life in town and country, vii) Mobilization of all potential to secure the skilled labour base, viii) Tapping into foreign workforce potential and creating a welcoming culture, ix) Promote educational biographies x) Public service as an attractive and modern employer.

15 “Germany is diverse. Different living and framework conditions and structural diversity are an enrichment for the regions and are fundamentally desirable. Nevertheless, there are considerable differences within Germany in regional income and employment opportunities, in securing mobility and in access to basic services and services of general interest. These trends are being reinforced by demographic developments, but also by the economic effects of the modern division of labour. Structurally weaker regions have difficulties in retaining younger, often well-educated people. Structurally stronger regions, on the other hand, benefit to a greater extent from the influx of qualified people from Germany and abroad. Equal living conditions are of central importance for social cohesion in Germany.”

16 Statistics in this paragraph are the latest available from NHS Performs as on 31 October 2022. The cancer waiting times statistics relate to June – August 2022 and the emergency department statistics relate to October 2022.

17 My Life in the Highlands. Highlands and Islands Enterprise, October 2022.



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