Helensburgh councillor Aileen Morton and Cabinet Secretary Fiona Hyslop.
By Stef Lach
Councillor Aileen Morton and representatives from seven other councils met Scottish Cabinet Secretary Fiona Hyslop at Holyrood this week to discuss population decline.
When the NRS (National Records of Scotland) published their population projections early in 2018, the leader of Argyll and Bute Council decided that the continuing and increasing west coast depopulation trend needed action.
She wrote to the leaders of the other seven affected Scottish local authority areas and brought them together for a series of discussions about the issue. This week, the group met with External Affairs Secretary Ms Hyslop, who confirmed the Scottish Government has started work to reverse the trend.
While eight council areas in the west of Scotland are experiencing population decline, the opposite is true in the east of the country.
Argyll and Bute is joined in the group by representatives from Inverclyde Council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, East Ayrshire Council, North Ayrshire Council, South Ayrshire Council and West Dunbartonshire Council.
Councillor Morton said: “Along with partners at the seven other councils disproportionately affected by depopulation in Scotland, I have been working hard to have this issue recognised by the Scottish Government.
“I’m pleased that the Cabinet Secretary has listened to what we have to say about this east-west split in terms of population decline and growth, and I look forward to further discussions as work progresses to address the imbalance.
“We are also working towards finalising a Rural Growth Deal for Argyll and Bute, a key element of which is growing our population and thereby securing a bright economic future.”
At this week’s meeting with Ms Hyslop, the eight west coast councils put forward their views on work by the Scottish Government and Ministerial task force, which was established to tackle Scotland’s population challenges.
Ms Hyslop said: “As we witness a shift in population from the west to east, it is important that we listen to our councils and hear their concerns over depopulation and the demographic challenges they face.
“While Scotland’s total population is the highest it’s ever been, at 5.4 million, we face a number of challenges with young people leaving rural areas, such as Ayrshire, Argyll and Bute and the Western Isles, to work or study in our large cities.
“The Scottish Government has started detailed work on how we can reverse this trend. With all of our population growth predicted to come from migration, the impact of the UK exiting the EU means that in the future we may not have enough working age people in the right places to support our economic, health, social care and other needs.
“As we work hard to do all we can with our existing powers, it is becoming increasingly important for the Scottish Parliament to have the ability to develop a tailored migration policy to meet Scotland’s needs and aspirations.”