Population Taskforce minutes: February 2022

Minutes for the meeting of the Population Taskforce, held on 9 February 2022.

Attendees and apologies

  • Angus Robertson (AR), Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Chair)
  • Humza Yousaf (HY), Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care
  • Neil Gray (NG), Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development
  • Patrick Harvie (PH), Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants' Rights
  • Clare Haughey (CH), Minister for Children and Young People
  • Jamie Hepburn (JH), Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment and Training
  • Richard Lochhead (RL), Minister for Just Transition, Employment, and Fair Work
  • Ben MacPherson (BM), Minister for Social Security and Local Government (substituting Shona Robison, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government)
  • Ivan McKee (IM), Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise
  • Christina McKelvie (CM), Minister for Equalities and Older People (substituting Shona Robison, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government)
  • Maree Todd (MT), Minister for Public Health, Women's Health and Sport
  • Scott Wightman (SW), Director of External Affairs
  • Helena Gray (HG), Director for Fair Work, Employability and Skills
  • Tim Ellis (TE),  Head of Performance and Outcomes
  • Rachel Sunderland (RS), Deputy Director, Population and Migration
  • Colin Carroll (CC), Citizens’ Rights Team Leader
  • Robert Mitchell (RM), Citizens’ Rights Senior Policy Officer
  • Martyna Masiewicz (MM), Citizens’ Rights Policy Officer
  • Mike Andrews (MA), Population Team Leader (secretariat)
  • Ben Jones (BJ), Deputy Population Programme Manager (secretariat)
  • Lauren Smith (LS), Population Policy Officer (secretariat)
  • Maria Crespo (MA), Population Policy Officer and Business Manager (secretariat)
  • Esther Roughsedge (ER), Statistician, National Records of Scotland


  • Jenny Gilruth, Minister for Transport
  • Tom Arthur, Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth
  • Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport
  • Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural and Island Affairs

Items and actions

Welcome and introductory remarks

AR welcomed attendees and offered a special welcome to new Taskforce members who had joined the group. He commented on the importance of the overall population agenda, in the context of the recent NRS projections, and the Taskforce’s continued role in supporting a cross-cutting policy approach to population trends. 

NRS population projections

ER gave a presentation on NRS population projections published in January 2022, highlighting key findings about how Scotland’s population is projected to change over the next 25 years. This includes Scotland’s projected population fall from 2028 onwards, and that Scotland is the only country in the UK where the population is projected to fall during the next 25 years. The presentation noted projections are not exact and are based on past trends. It was also noted, because latest projections are based on past trends, current data does not take into account any potential impacts to inward migration that the ending of Freedom of Movement may have.

Taskforce members highlighted a range of points relating to the presentation. Among the key points included: how other European countries’ are dealing with similar issues around falling population; steps being taken by countries experiencing population growth, such as Norway and Ireland; the importance of looking at local level depopulation challenges, with West Coast Local Authorities highlighted; with an ageing and older population, how to support this cohort; and the need to ensure Scotland as a family friendly nation.

Population programme work stream updates

RS invited members to note updates on the different work streams of the Population Programme, setting out the agreed approach for how the Taskforce will consider different elements of the Population Strategy through 2022. As part of the Attraction and Welcoming strand, this meeting would focus on the Programme for Government commitment to develop a Migration Service For Scotland. On Population Balance, there would be a substantive item at the May Taskforce around addressing local depopulation in rural and island communities. Within the Family Friendly work stream, research and analysis was being undertaken to better inform our understanding and update the evidence base in regard to record low birth rates in Scotland. It was planned that the findings from this research would be brought as a substantive item to the Taskforce in Summer 2022. Progress under the Healthy Living work stream would be brought to the Taskforce in Autumn 2022, based on the outcome of the work undertaken by Strategic Insights Unit around adaptations to demographic change.

It was noted a Scottish Government official would be appointed to lead on communications and engagement for this agenda. This was welcomed by AR, who reflected to the Taskforce that there was a collective responsibility across all Ministers to ensure wider understanding of the population challenges and opportunities which Scotland faced. On this point, taskforce members discussed a need to highlight rural challenges when conveying overall messaging, commenting on the specific challenge of depopulation in the Highlands. Taskforce members offered links to work across portfolios on ensuring non-discriminatory language and visuals when addressing age and older people.

Migration service for Scotland

NG spoke to the Migration Service for Scotland paper (MPTF22(01)03), highlighting the working title for the service, pending finalising of the service’s scope. The two main priorities of the proposed service were outlined as attraction and retention, and NG set out that the proposed service would increase the advice and help offered to people who wanted to come to Scotland. This would build on existing resources, such as Talent Scotland and Moving to Scotland.

Taskforce members moved to discuss key recommendations from the paper, agreeing that the service should include a focus on presenting the family friendly position of Scottish Government to people interested in moving to Scotland. It was also agreed that the service should present a package in support of people moving to remote and rural areas, and the specific needs of key workforces, such as those in Health and Social Care, should be aligned with the service offering, to ensure not just recruitment but also longer term retention.

It was recognised that values are an important aspect of how Scotland presents itself to people who may want to come and live here, in turn creating a desire to attract people on the basis of making a life in Scotland, rather than solely coming to do a job. On this point, it was noted that the current constitutional arrangements created barriers to attracting people without an established offer of employment, and that there was a pressing need to deliver a service which could support the needs of the Scottish economy.

Taskforce members also highlighted the need for people who contribute to communities, with some places in Scotland relying heavily on migrant workforces, where the impact of Brexit was seen to be impacting negatively, leaving communities in a fragile state. Taskforce members agreed to work across portfolios to ensure a joined up offer was created which brought services together, in collaboration with Local Government and Social Security Scotland, to deliver on the needs of Scottish communities.

Action: Item agreed – Officials to reflect comments from Taskforce members in revised version of paper, and facilitate cross portfolio engagement in delivering next steps.

Strategic insights unit – adaptation to demographic change work strand

TE provided an overview of a proposed piece of work about adapting to demographic changes. He outlined the two main strands of proposed work: public service delivery and labour market participation, both in the context of an ageing population. Taskforce members agreed they were content with the paper and for work to proceed, with a proposal to bring findings back to a future Taskforce.

Taskforce members called for links to be made between this work and ongoing work around economic transformation and the future skills action plan. There was also a further call for making it broader than labour market participation and public services, so it better aligned with the National Performance Framework review process.

Members also suggested that an equality impact assessment should be included to take account of gender differences, impact on older people, and with consideration to the often underreported role played by unpaid carers.

Action: Item agreed – Officials to update proposed work following feedback from Taskforce, and commence proposed work


No other business was raised.

AR thanked members for their contributions and closed the meeting. 

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