Population Taskforce minutes: September 2020

Minutes from the meeting of the Population Taskforce, held on 23 September 2020.

Attendees and apologies


  • Fiona Hyslop (FH), Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture (Chair)
  • Jamie Hepburn (JH), Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills
  • Ben Macpherson (BM), Minister for Public Finance and Migration
  • Richard Lochhead (RL), Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science
  • Ivan McKee (IM), Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation
  • Joe Fitzpatrick (JF), Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing
  • Katy Bowman (KB), Special Adviser
  • Scott Wightman (SW), Director of External Affairs
  • Rachel Sunderland (RS), Deputy Director, Population and Migration
  • Lewis Holden (LH), Deputy Population Programme Manager (secretariat)
  • Cristina Thomson (CT), Population Policy Officer (secretariat)
  • Tom Holm (TH), Population Policy Officer (secretariat)
  • Carron Flockhart (CF), Future Skills Strategy Unit (observer)
  • Lorraine Lowrie (LL), Rural Economy and Communities Division (observer) 


  • Mairi Gougeon, Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment
  • Kevin Stewart, Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning
  • Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands
  • Aileen Campbell, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government
  • Jeane Freeman, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport

Items and actions

Welcome and introductory remarks

FH welcomed everyone to the meeting, setting out the key themes for the meeting:

  • how the context for the programme has changed as a result of COVID-19 
  • the emerging evidence and policy positions the Scottish Government will set out in our published Population Strategy in 2021, which it committed to publishing in the PfG

Minutes of the previous meeting and actions MPTF20(02)02

The minutes of the previous meeting were agreed. LH provided an update on the action log, noting that all actions from the previous meeting had been completed. 

The last two actions had been prepared for the meeting postponed in April and would be brought to the next meeting. 

Programme Update MPTF20(02)03 

The group noted the papers which provided updates on:

  • where the programme was prior to the March pause, explaining the priorities were communications, talent attraction, population indicator and initial discussions on developing a strategy
  • areas where progress had been made in the programme since March, including publication of our NPF indicator for population, Expert Advisory Group reports and engagement with external organisations 

BM provided an updated on the recent EAG publication on migration from rUK and within Scotland, and future EAG commissions on rural migration pilots and family migration.

FH invited members to provide updates on relevant work within ministerial portfolios, and  for views on whether they agreed to the priorities of the programme set out in the paper. The main discussions were:

  • education – although there had been a decline in EU students accepting offers for Scotland’s Universities there had been an increase in non-EU international students accepting offers. These figures were based on acceptances. As universities were staggering starts final data was not available as yet. Scotland had relatively more international and European students and more international research staff than the rUK
  • talent attraction – we should look to showcase Scotland as a WFH friendly environment, and learn from the Digital Nomad programme in Estonia. This would enable the Scottish Government to support business in accessing talent where individuals were based outwith Scotland


  • officials to provide  ministers who missed the meeting with an update to bring them up to speed and also capture their views on COVID impacts

Emerging evidence on COVID-19 impacts on population and policy responses MPTF20(02)05

FH opened the discussion noting that the paper set out some of the potential medium- and long-term impacts of COVID-19 on Scotland’s population and demographic change – both negative and positive. The paper also focused on indirect and more medium and longer term impacts. 

The key impacts identified were:

  • implications for international migration
  • implications for rUK migration, internal migration and urbanisation
  • impacts of the economic downturn associated with the pandemic
  • fertility and other health impacts associated with the pandemic 

LH provided a brief summary of a paper on COVID-19 impacts and policy responses.

FH invited the group to provide feedback on the paper, particularly key evidence, themes or priorities that had been missed. The main discussion points were:


Job losses were starting to appear in some communities but there was no clear evidence yet on where, though they were likely to be spread across Scotland. This would be a good time to utilise something like the Youth Guarantee to try to help and sustain communities. JH had had conversations with Chamber of Commerce which were engaged and looking to be involved. He echoed IM’s point on the positives of home working, but to sustain this inlocal communities would require investment in infrastructure. 


Housing affordability was a key issue. Mr Stewart would take forward the housing strategy which would include looking at rural communities and the impact of buying second properties and inflating house prices on the ability of local people to own homes. A Land and Building Transaction Tax (LBTT) might be considered. Another important dimension of the housing debate was attracting health professionals to live and work in rural areas. Large companies were reporting they found it hard to attract professionals to work in rural areas due to lack of maternity services: there were cases of people turning down job offers to settle in places with good maternity services.


More online learning in the wake of COVID could be a positive as those in rural areas would not have to leave the area to attend college/university but on the other hand this could be a negative for overseas students who were able to follow courses from their home country. Both were linked to provision of digital infrastructure; these issues predated Covid-19 within rural areas but had been given further emphasised due to the pandemic.


COVID was helping to push a digital offer within the healthcare profession with online GP appointments in rural areas. 


  • officials to consider Economy, Digital, Housing and Education as part of the strategy papers
  • officials to arrange a discussion with Ms Hyslop to consider how to reflect the challenges of COVID-19 within the population strategy

Population Strategy findings 

  • MPTF20(02)06 – summary paper
  • MPTF20(02)07 – migration 
  • MPTF20(02)08 – fertility 
  • MPTF20(02)09 – health 
  • MPTF20(02)10 – rural

Members noted the papers and were invited to comment or point officials in the right direction of partners who might wish to provide feedback on the papers. Main points of the conversation were:

  • FH noted that officials should consider Education, Economy, Housing and Digital within the Population Strategy
  • RL asked  if there was a way to gather information from those who had moved from rural to urban areas and vice versa on their motivation. This might be through engagement with local chambers
  • BM suggested using this as an opportunity to dovetail the population strategy with the wellbeing agenda
  • JH commented that work could be done to promote work that is already available in areas such as Inverclyde, North Ayrshire and Dunbartonshire
  • BM raised the need to continue encouraging the return of people who had left Scotland as identified in the latest EAG report
  • BM suggested adjusting the language and narrative - referring to “rural, island and coastal” areas rather than “remote”? 


  • officials to speak with Gary Gillespie, Chief Economist to see if there is similar work within the wellbeing arena
  • officials to arrange a meeting with Ms Hyslop to discuss the scope of the strategy paper, including the Education, Economy, Housing and Digital workstreams further

AOB and next steps

FH ended the meeting noting that work would continue to develop a population strategy to be published in early 2021, in line with the priorities agreed at this meeting.

There was no other business raised.

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