More action needed on Argyll and Bute depopulation

The debating chamber at the Scottish Parliament, where Argyll and Bute's declining population was discussed on January 22, 2015.
The debating chamber at the Scottish Parliament, where Argyll and Bute's declining population was discussed on January 22, 2015.

The Scottish Government has admitted that more needs to be done to reverse the declining population of Argyll and Bute.

Marco Biagi, the minister for local government and community empowerment, was speaking during a debate on the issue in the Scottish Parliament chamber on Thursday.

The debate, led by Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie McGrigor, was sparked by alarming figures showing a significant decline in the number of people living in the area - including a drop of more than ten per cent in the population of Bute - and predictions from the National Records of Scotland that that decline could accelerate in the future.

Mr McGrigor said: “May’s NRS projections are that the population of Argyll and Bute will fall by 13.5 per cent over the next 25 years against a nine per cent rise in the overall Scottish population.

“And even more concerning: people of working age are projected to fall by 22 per cent by 2037.

“All that comes on top of a 3.4 per cent decline between 2001 and 2011 with some islands such as Bute, seeing a population decline of more than ten per cent in that time.

“When you look at the facades of the buildings in Rothesay or Dunoon or Helensburgh, you see the traces of an era of prosperity and enterprise, but these are fading fast.

“We risk losing the critical mass needed to retain services like rural primary schools, the loss of which will discourage people moving to the area- a vicious circle which is difficult to escape. The challenge for us is to reverse this population decline and sow the seeds of something different.”

Mr Biagi replied: “We know that housing, schools, health and connectivity all play a part in making an area attractive and able to thrive. That’s why we are delivering hundreds of new affordable homes, upgrading and building three news schools and redesigning health services to meet the needs of people in Argyll and Bute.

“In addition to this we are improving transport links and we are investing in next generation broadband which will help close the digital gap.

“We recognise that more still needs be done and I will be visiting the area very soon to discuss any proposals.

“In the meantime we will continue to work with Argyll and Bute Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Enterprise, VisitScotland and other partners towards our shared goal of building a strong and sustainable economy for the people of Argyll and Bute.”