Population Taskforce minutes: February 2023

Minutes from the meeting of the Ministerial Population Taskforce on 22 February 2023.

Attendees and apologies

• Neil Gray, Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Chair) (NG)
• Shona Robison, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government (SR)
• Richard Lochhead, Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Training (RL)
• Jamie Hepburn, Minister for Higher Education, Further Education, Youth Employment and Training (JH)
• Tom Arthur, Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth (TA)
• Ben Macpherson, Minister for Local Government and Social Security (BM)
• Kevin Stewart, Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care (KS)
• Ivan McKee, Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise (IM)
• Scott Wightman, Director for External Affairs (SW)
• Claire McPherson Deputy Director, Migration and Population (CM)
• Lisa Buchan, Team Leader, Skills, Talent Attraction & Retention (LB)
• Colin Carroll, Team Leader, Citizens’ Rights (CC)
• Neill Watt, Head of European Engagement (NW)
• Esther Roughsedge, Statistician, National Records Scotland (ER)
• Kathryn Ray, Principal Research Officer, Strategic Insights Unit (KR)
• Robin Lee, Strategic Insights Unit Policy Adviser (RLee) 
• Stephen Cragg, Head of Appraisal and Model Development, Transport Scotland (SC)
• Corinne Dunthorne, Private Secretary to the Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (CD)
• Francesca Iwanyckyj, Private Secretary to the Minister for Social Security and Local Government (FI)
• Isabella Buus-Pedersen, Assistant Private Secretary to the Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care (IB)
• Rachael Patterson, Private Secretary to the Minister for Higher Education, Further Education, Youth Employment and Training (RP)
• Mike Andrews, Population Team Leader (secretariat) (MA)
• Ben Jones, Deputy Population Programme Manager (secretariat) (BJ)
• Lauren Smith, Population Policy Officer (secretariat) (LS)
• Maria Crespo, Population Policy Officer (secretariat) (MC)


• Humza Yousaf, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care
• Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands
• Claire Haughey, Minister for Children and Young People
• Angus Robertson, Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture
• Maree Todd, Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport 
• Jenny Gilruth, Minister for Transport 

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

NG welcomed Taskforce to the meeting and noted he was standing in as Chair for the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture, who was unable to attend this meeting. 

Taskforce agreed the minutes of the previous meeting. 

Talent Attraction and Migration Service (TAMS)

NG provided an update on the development of the Talent Attraction and Migration Service (TAMS). Members highlighted the need to be clear about the scope of the service and ensuring it is joined up in delivering cross-portfolio objectives, when appointing a supplier/s.

Members also questioned contingency plans in place in the eventuality that an appropriate supplier is not identified through the forthcoming tendering process. NG noted that this is unlikely to happen as there are a number of potential suppliers who have expressed interest, however agreed to give this consideration.

Action: Population and Migration officials to consider wider contingency planning as part of TAMS development. 

European engagement

NW presented a paper on proposed European engagement within the Population Programme, and highlighted a range of successful engagement already undertaken with Spain and Finland, following Taskforce previously committing to take forward further international engagement in order to facilitate knowledge exchange.

Members queried whether any engagement had taken place with France on this, and highlighted upcoming ministerial engagement in France as an opportunity to raise population issues. It was noted that challenges in France relating to rural depopulation are similar to those currently being explored through engagement with Spain. Engagement with France was therefore noted as a potential next step.

Members suggested that European companies and multinationals with a base in Scotland represent potential channels for engagement, for example in relation to staffing shortages and recruitment. NG highlighted the importance of industry engagement in developing the Rural Visa Pilot proposal, and the need to apply the lessons from this experience.

The paper was agreed by Taskforce.

Action: European Engagement officials to consider further opportunities for industry engagement in relation to population.
Action: European Engagement officials to consider population as a topic for forthcoming ministerial engagement in France.

Adaptation to population change: local services

BM presented a paper on progress with regards to work exploring adaptation to population change and the implications for local service delivery. 
Members emphasised the need to ensure the links between this work, and the Remote Rural and Islands Housing Action Plan, to best enable recruitment and retention of people to address depopulation within our Highland and Island communities. Additionally, ensuring that affordable housing plans in each local authority are linked to population forecasts was highlighted, and that the allocation of housing budget and the subsequent effects on depopulation was pivotal. Members also flagged links between this work and the paper on connectivity (Item 4), and the need to maintain alignment between these two strands of work.
Members requested that the case studies for this work be agreed by the end of April, and that the Population Programme Board and Ministerial Population Taskforce be updated of this via correspondence.
Taskforce agreed to the next steps set out in the paper.

Action: Strategic Insights officials to agree case studies by the end of April, and notify the Taskforce once complete.

Connectivity and population

MA presented a paper on the links between connectivity and population outcomes, following an ask to do so from the Minister for Transport at the previous meeting. The paper and proposed project next steps were approved by Taskforce.

Any other business

RL raised an issue about Scottish children who have received a military education, and are subsequently being charged English student fees for university, thus encouraging young people to move to England who may otherwise have stayed in Scotland. JH noted the issue and that he would be happy to investigate this further. LR also noted that there were a number of areas of government policy, such as Higher Education policy that could be reviewed to ensure the impact on population was fully understood.

Action: Population officials to follow up with Higher Education policy officials.

Members commented on the approach in relation to depopulation in some parts of the country, versus rising population numbers and ‘overheating’ in other areas. It was noted that the upcoming Addressing Depopulation Action Plan would contain a focus on both urban and rural depopulation, be designed using a place-based approach, and proportionately explore both mitigation and adaptation approaches to addressing depopulation. 

NG closed thanked members for their contributions and closed the meeting.

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