Population Taskforce: terms of reference

Terms of reference for the Population Taskforce.


Scotland, like many other nations is facing a demographic challenge: our population is ageing, due to declining birth rate in Scotland (lowest rate since records began in 1855), population growth is projected to be entirely dependent on future migration and our working age population may decline. These effects are not being felt uniformly across Scotland as, broadly, the population is shifting from west to east and away from rural communities, which has given rise to particular localised challenges.  

GDP growth is driven by growth in productivity, participation and the (working age) population. Over the past decade population growth has been the primary driver of GDP growth for both Scotland and the UK, with productivity growth secondary. The Scottish Government has highlighted the importance of population in the National Performance Framework and at Cabinet level. However, up until now there has been no single, official policy lead on population, with policy being dispersed across a number of policy areas and Ministerial portfolios. As such it has been agreed to establish a cross Ministerial taskforce, to bring these different strands together into a cohesive policy approach.  

The table in annex A illustrates the population programme: 

Purpose of the Ministerial taskforce

The initial purpose of the taskforce is to ensure population supports the needs of communities and sustainable economic growth through:

  • ensuring that the emerging and potential population challenge is fully understood, and impacts are clearly articulated in the round
  • defining its aspiration for Scotland’s population in terms of level of growth over the short, medium, long term
  • gaining a comprehensive understanding of current activity across Government Policy that is addressing Population challenge
  • identifying innovative and collective interventions to respond to significant gaps which may include new interventions, scaling up or accelerating existing activity
  • agreeing a cohesive policy approach to the overarching population challenge with effective delivery arrangements

To fulfil this purpose, Ministers would need to agree priorities and recommendations for action, taking a holistic view of the population/demographic challenges.  

The taskforce would task relevant policy areas with taking action following the identification of gaps, overlaps, and areas for new activity that meet the population needs of Scotland’s communities and economy, and identify the further action needed to meet SG objectives and develop an overall plan of action integrating new and existing action to support the agreed cohesive approach to population policy. 

The Ministerial taskforce would be established for an initial period (one year) to oversee the various strands of activity and establish a clear Scottish Government wide approach. At this point there will be a review of the rationale and remit for the taskforce. A subsequent role of the Ministerial taskforce may be to launch a national conversation to secure commitment to growing the population from opposition parties, from business, and from the public. 

The secretariat would be provided by the Population and Migration Directorate. 

Remit of the Ministerial taskforce 

The remit of the Ministerial taskforce will be to establish a ‘programme’ of current and new activity to deliver a cohesive approach to population policy to give oversight and direction to that coalition of policy areas. This will initially include:

  • bringing together the range of activity across Scottish Government and partner organisations aimed at addressing population and demographic change – making the impact of the whole greater than the sum of its parts
  • identifying and addressing ‘gaps’ in the current range of activity
  • building public awareness of the population challenge Scotland faces
  • considering the impact of population change on rural, remote and island communities as well as the population shift from west to east with a view to identifying policy options
  • considering and address the impact of population challenges on the public sector workforce
  • actively encouraging individuals from across the EU (and internationally) to move to Scotland
  • identifying the policies in place, or that could be introduced, to support women, children and families, that might contribute to an increase in birth rates
  • ensuring distribution and access to skills through polices supporting widening access and, improving attainment for all
  • attracting students from the EU and RUK to study in Scotland and remain afterwards, and building an evidence base case for a post study work visa
  • attracting skilled working age people from RUK to relocate to live and work in Scotland
  • reviewing existing marketing  and wider interventions to support the above
  • develop the National Performance Framework Population Indicator (under the International Outcome)


Membership of the Ministerial taskforce will consist of a core group:

  • Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture (Chair)
  • Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport (interest in population health and birth rate) 
  • Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government 
  • Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment (interest in skills shortages and working age population in rural economy)
  • Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands
  • Minister for Public Finance and Migration
  • Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation (interest migration to Scotland from RUK) 
  • Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning (local government interest but also issues re access to housing)
  • Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills (lead on skills, employability and the labour market ) 
  • Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science

Ministers invited to join for specific discussions on sector skills shortages may include:

  • Deputy First Minister 
  • Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing
  • Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy
  • Cabinet Secretary for Social Security, Older People.
  • Minister for Older People and Equalities

Official programme board

The Ministerial taskforce will be supported by a senior official level group (Programme Board) which will bring together all strands of work on population across government in order to seek coherence in policy and delivery as well as identify and address gaps. Policy teams from the ministerial portfolios above would be represented on the Programme Board as would other areas with a key interest in population and demographic change notably National Records of Scotland. The Board would also include key delivery partners including Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Skills Development Scotland and Visit Scotland.

The Programme Board would be co-chaired by the Director for Fair Work, Employability and Skills and Director for External Affairs. The Secretariat for the Board will be the same Secretariat as for the Ministerial Task Force.

Annex A - the population programme

  International migration RuK migration Birth rate Ageing (incl. retirement) Skills Gaps/labour shortages (esp in remote/rural) Intra-Scotland migration (e.g. to rural areas) Retention
  • UK migration policy
  • International profile
  • House prices
  • Employment opportunities
  • Social contract (e.g. free personal care, prescriptions, university education)
  • Cost of housing
  • Cost of childcare
  • Gender inequality and pay gap
  • Employment opportunities and conditions for older people
  • Pensions
  • Housing
  • Transport
  • Employment opportunities
  • Transport
  • Education
  • Employment opportunities
  • Employment progression opportunities
Existing policy responses (examples, not exhaustive – mapping exercise will identify all response)  •    Gender Pay Gap action plan
•    Free childcare expansion
•    Fair Work action plan
•    Fair Start Scotland
•    COHI skills pilot
•    ‘Scotland is Now’ sectoral campaigns: clinicians; teach in Scotland etc.

Skills investment plans; city; regional deals; inward investment and relocation of business and industry to Scotland (eg Space Port)

Programme for Government commitment to develop a Welcome to Scotland resource to support people moving to Scotland

Stay in Scotland campaign

Potential new responses (to be identified through this work stream)               


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