Population Taskforce minutes: June 2019

Minutes from the meeting of the Population Taskforce, held on 4 June 2019.

Attendees and apologies


  • Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs (Chair)
  • Jeane Freeman, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport
  • Aileen Campbell, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government
  • Ben Macpherson, Minister for Europe, Migration and International Development
  • Kevin Stewart, Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning
  • Ivan McKee, Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation
  • Richard Lochhead, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science
  • Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands

In attendance:    

  • Dominic Munro, Director Fair Work, Employability and Skills
  • Rachel Sunderland, Population and Migration
  • Denise Patrick, National Records of Scotland
  • Shirley Mccoard, Population and Migration
  • Katy Bowman, Special Adviser
  • Emma Innocent, First Minister’s Policy Unit


  • Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy
  • Jamie Hepburn Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills

Items and actions

Introductory remarks

Ms Hyslop welcomed colleagues to the first meeting of the Ministerial Taskforce on Population emphasising the importance of the three ‘Ps’ of economic performance – productivity, population and participation. The recent report from the Scottish Fiscal Commission had highlighted the importance of population to GDP projecting significantly slower growth in Scotland compared to the UK primarily because of slower population growth in Scotland. Scotland’s population was currently at its highest level but this masked significant local differences and with Scotland’s birthrate at its lowest level since 1855 all future population growth will be driven entirely by migration.

Population statistics and evidence

Ms Hyslop invited Denise Patrick from NRS to provide an overview. A summary of the Mid-Year Population Estimates 2018 had been circulated prior to the meeting and DP circulated ‘Scotland’s Population – how it is changing locally’ (attached) to the meeting.

Population policy issues – key themes

The meeting considered the paper. In discussion the following points were made:

  • population projections outline a possible scenario for future growth but policy decisions could change that scenario. Significant risk based on current projections of a geographical concentration of population and considerable variation across Scotland with some areas projected to grow whilst others facing depopulation. Extent to which focus of policy should be to manage impact of such change or to seek to shape population dispersal
  • focus should be on agreeing preferred outcome in relation to the size, age structure and distribution of the population in Scotland and then develop an action plan to deliver that outcome
  • important not to focus solely on the total population but also dispersal within Scotland and essential characteristics. Meeting highlighted the importance of infrastructure, including public services and consideration regarding the extent to which Scotland needs to have a regional policy
  • importance of housing highlighted and the extent to which availability of appropriate affordable housing can drive relocation decisions 
  • role of local authorities as important partners who have lead responsibility for many of the key levers. Population needed to be seen as a priority at all levels of government. Also important to recognise the sub-local authority individual community level picture and the work planning had undertaken on developing a digital planning tool was highlighted
  • there is currently a placeholder within the National Performance Framework for an indicator on population and this taskforce should take a lead role in developing that indicator
  • language is important and some of the terms traditionally used around population eg ‘working age’ don’t necessarily reflect the reality of the modern labour market. Potential to consider the language we use
  • need to think clearly about the overarching narrative. The aim is not just to increase the overall population but to grow our population to ensure we have sustainable, vibrant and resilient communities and drive improvements in inclusive growth. The core message needs to be tailored for each individual portfolio area
  • Scotland needs to sell itself to people from rUK and outwith the UK (especially to families) but also to people within Scotland to both retain people and to encourage migration to those communities at risk of depopulation

The Ministerial taskforce agreed that:

  • NRS should be asked to provide data on the age breakdown of people relocating to Scotland from the rest of the UK
  • NRS to be asked to determine the feasibility of providing more information on fertility rates within the cities and other areas
  • NRS to be asked to provide further data on intra Scotland migration by age
  • work should be undertaken to identify population fragile communities
  • NRS should be asked to provide clarification on the impact of changes in the pension age on the working age population/dependency ratio projections
  • they would give consideration to the National Performance Framework indicator at a subsequent meeting

Portfolio responses to policy issues

Ms Hyslop reminded colleagues to return their portfolio responses to policy issues template that had been circulated prior to the meeting.

The Ministerial taskforce agreed that:

  • Ministers would ensure that the policy issues templates were returned

Identifying policy priorities

In addition to the issues already identified the meeting focused on the importance of communication.

The Ministerial taskforce agreed that:

  • officials should engage with communications colleagues to develop a population communication strategy

Agreeing the terms of reference

The Ministerial taskforce agreed the terms of reference and remit.

NRS are in the process of developing constituency level data due by the end of June. 

Date of next meeting - TBC.

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