Supporting and enabling sustainable communities: action plan to address depopulation

This Action Plan newly establishes a strategic policy position for Scottish Government around addressing depopulation and maps a range of new and existing supportive activity being undertaken across Scottish Government and by local and regional delivery partners.

01 Ministerial Foreword

Scotland’s first national Population Strategy, published in 2021, sets out the diverse and cross-cutting demographic challenges that Scotland faces, and a programme of work to address these. We know that we are facing a number of demographic challenges, including a falling birth rate which is coinciding with an increasingly ageing population, and a changing relationship with migration following the ending of free movement. As a result of these trends, Scotland’s population is projected to start declining from 2033; the only country in the UK where this is the case. Additionally, our population’s distribution across the country is not balanced, as the most recent projections show that 14 council areas are projected to decline over the next decade, while many of our urban communities continue to grow.

Scotland’s population change is therefore not felt equally across the country, and is driven by a myriad of complex, interlinked factors, which can vary from one community to another. Addressing the impact of these challenges requires a collaborative response across the Scottish Government, local government, and partners to ensure a thriving and sustainable country for generations to come. The ‘More Balanced’ strand of the Population Strategy, which this Action Plan builds on, sets out an ambition to achieve “sustainable distribution of our population in a way that works with the characteristics of our places and local ambitions for change”.

In this Action Plan, we set out actions to take forward at both a local and national level, to address the very real challenges Scotland faces as a result of depopulation. It puts firm action into place which establishes depopulation as a priority area of focus for the Scottish Government and will enable us, over time, to achieve our aim of a sustainable distribution of our population, in a way that works for places and enables local ambitions for change. The Scottish Government is committed to taking a genuine partnership approach to the development and delivery of the Action Plan, which is why we have engaged with a wide range of local, regional, and national stakeholders to ensure that this plan is collaborative, coherent, and reflects action which can be taken from community to national level in order to best support communities to thrive.

Throughout the development of this document, I have met with representatives from a wide range of areas affected by population decline, including the Highlands, Argyll and Bute, Na h-Eileanan Siar, Dumfries and Galloway, Inverclyde and the Small Isles. Through these conversations, I’ve heard that what communities and organisations want is to be enabled to support population attraction and retention at a local level. The steps being taken through this Action Plan will proactively support that, with a view to enhancing the evidence base about what can work more widely across areas of Scotland affected by population decline.

Addressing depopulation is a whole-government effort. That is why the Ministerial Population Taskforce will oversee this Action Plan’s delivery and take steps, wherever possible, to use the evidence gained from the actions listed to enhance our approach in future. By establishing this new programme of targeted work, we will embed considerations around population sustainability across a range of the Scottish Government’s key areas of work and seek to enable local leadership to make decisions relative to the population in their area, on issues that matter most to them.

Emma Roddick

Minister for Equalities, Migration and Refugees



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