Council air concerns over population decline

Argyll and Bute Council executive director, Kirsty Flanagan

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More than a quarter of Argyll and Bute’s population is aged 65 and over – and nearly half of the council’s staff is aged over 50.

These figures are revealed in a council document laying out the authority’s financial strategy for the next 10 years.

The report also suggests that the area’s population is projected to fall by nearly six per cent from 2018 to 2028 – compared with a predicted increase of 1.8 per cent for the whole of Scotland.

It has also experienced a population decrease of 5.9 per cent between 1998 and 2018, and a working age population decrease of 11.2 per cent in that period.

The financial strategy was put before the council’s policy and resources committee at its virtual meeting on Thursday, August 12.

Executive director Kirsty Flanagan said: ‘The area has one of the oldest age structures in Scotland with 25.5 per cent of the population aged over 65 and, in addition, is experiencing a net outmigration of people as well as natural decline in the population.

‘Population decline is widespread among different geographies and island/mainland areas. The area also has the highest proportion of second homes of all local authorities in Scotland.

‘EU exit is likely to further exacerbate the declining population trend for Argyll and Bute and others parts of the Highlands and Islands.

‘Therefore, a targeted, inter-agency response is crucial to mitigate these trends. In particular, through the Convention of the Highlands and Islands (COHI) it has been suggested that a sub-regional population response team is established, whose goal should be to rapidly impact on population issues in Argyll and Bute, the Outer Hebrides and Caithness and Sutherland, and bring forward a ‘repopulation plan’.

‘Demographic change will have significant impact on services as funding allocated from the Scottish Government is partly based on the population of an area.

“Furthermore, projected population changes will have an impact on all service areas, particularly education and social care, where there will be a need to manage the transition from current service delivery arrangements to new models that are built around the needs of the future population.’

Ms Flanagan added that the most recent assessment of the workforce provided a positive picture with an improvement in filling professional posts, with the flexibility afforded by working from home.

She said: “Argyll and Bute has an ageing population and the council’s workforce reflects this. Around 48 per cent of the workforce is aged 50 or over and this is the most prevalent workforce risk across teams.

‘The council is managing this through structured succession and improving access to skills and training, more easily delivered through improved online learning. Managers are encouraged to review vacancies before filling them to ascertain the potential for a trainee to be brought in.

‘This is the core of our ‘Growing Our Own’ approach, and has been very successful, particularly in teams like ICT and digital.

‘However, managers continue to cite capacity demands as an ongoing barrier to taking on trainees or apprentices, as workload pressures have increased.

‘Earmarked reserves have been set aside to support investment in trainees for the highest risk teams, although this provides only limited scope to fill posts.’