Council Leader highlights the problem of Western Isles’ depopulation to Cabinet Minister

Comhairle Leader Roddie Mackay (seated third from left) highlighted the concerns of the Comhairle at the recent meeting at Cosla headquarters in Edinburgh.
Comhairle Leader Roddie Mackay (seated third from left) highlighted the concerns of the Comhairle at the recent meeting at Cosla headquarters in Edinburgh.

Population changes and the trend of people moving from west to east has been discussed at the Scottish Government recently when External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop met with council leaders to discuss their concerns around depopulation.

Eight west coast councils, including Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, were asked to contribute their views on work by the Scottish Government and Ministerial task force, which was established to tackle Scotland’s population challenges, including the depopulation of 14 of Scotland’s 32 local councils.

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.”

Attending the meeting in Edinburgh, Comhairle Leader Roddie Mackay, highlighted the need for funding economic development in remote and rural areas.

Following the meeting he told the Gazette: “We have been working together with colleagues from other local authorities in a West Coast Depopulation Group where we have been aiming to bring the issue of West Coast Depopulation to the front and centre of Government thinking. We have been making good progress, in terms of both ministerial engagement and support through Cosla.

“This latest meeting with Cabinet Minster Fiona Hyslop was the most encouraging to date as she confirmed that addressing the population challenges are a priority for Scottish Government.

“They have set up a group which has wide ministerial representation across the portfolio and our group will feed into this.

“Whilst there are systemic challenges which need strategic thinking and a great degree of planning to ensure sustainable long term structural changes,I did highlight the urgency of the situation in our island localities.

“I suggested that Scottish Government should make every effort to ensure that funding for economic development in these remote and rural areas would help in creating jobs and retaining and attracting young people.

“I also repeated our call for Government to place civil service and public sector jobs in our localities as even relatively low numbers in a national context can make a huge difference locally.”

He added: “Further down the line we at the Comhairle would hope to investigate a number of measures and interventions such as targeted cost of living allowances, creation of incentivised economic development zones and wealth transfer through the decentralisation of decision making functions and jobs.”