Scotland Communities and society

Who lives where? Scotland’s new sub-council area population projections


Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

This new article from Improvement Service (IS) answers the question of who lives where across Scotland. Without a doubt, knowing where people live now and where they might live in the future is essential information for local authorities who are responsible for delivering key services.

Back in 2020, our team at IS published a Scotland-wide set of sub-council area population projections, making Scotland the only country in the UK to have such a dataset. This collaborative project with the National Records of Scotland (NRS) meant that every local authority had access to data outlining the projected future population of Multi-Member Wards or other small geographies.

At the time, we felt that this was a crucial piece of data to fill a gap in the information available to local authorities, but we were aware that accessing this data required poring through spreadsheets and that it might not always be entirely obvious where each sub-council area actually was. To make this process easier, we have published our new dashboard which allows anyone to easily access and analyse this data at the click of a button. The dashboard provides maps and graphs to display the data and allows custom slices of the data to be accessed and downloaded.

Why use the dashboard?

The dashboard is developed to be easy to use and hopefully engaging for anyone who has an interest in knowing more about their area. That could be an elected member, someone working as a council officer, or a member of the public with an interest in the place they live. If you don’t want to have to delve into spreadsheets to find the information you’re after, then this dashboard is for you.

For the analysts and other data experts who might be happier working with data in a spreadsheet or in Python, the dashboard will let you access graphs and maps without any manipulation and offers an easy way to access specific subsets of the data. And of course, you can still access the full datasets in Excel format from the IS website.

Why use the data?

To deliver services efficiently and effectively we need to know where people are. These data sets provide an insight into the makeup and distribution of a local authority’s population, as well as how historic trends might affect where people live in the future.

The NRS produce council-level population projections on a regular basis, and while these are a brilliant source of data, they don’t tell us about the smaller localities within a local authority. The more granular insight provided within our dashboard supplements the NRS statistics and provides an invaluable resource for all local authorities whether they have very large populations (such as Glasgow) or cover wide geographical areas (like the Highland Council) or even where the area and population are relatively small.

To give an example from our smallest mainland local authority, Clackmannanshire, while overall population change is projected to see a small decrease of around 1.4% by 2030. The Clackmannanshire East ward is expected to see population growth of almost 12%. Clearly, local authority level figures do not tell the whole story.

As well as total population figures, we also provide insight into the factors behind these trends, such as migration, and births and deaths. Using this data provides a fuller picture of what’s going on within the different areas inside a local authority. Does an area have particularly high outward migration, for example, and why might that be?

All of this data is useful for planning policy decisions and for future service delivery; ensuring that service delivery is aligned to the population groups who might use them. This could be used in a range of service areas, including:

  • Education and childcare: which areas are projected to have the greatest number of children and young people?
  • Housing: where is the population growth and where might there be demand for housing in future?
  • Planning: where will people live and what facilities and services will be needed?
  • Social care: which areas will have the greatest older populations and how might this impact demand for services?

Finally, we do need to mention the limits of projections. The main point is that these are projections and not forecasts of what we think will happen, nor do they take into account any policy decisions that may very well change what happens to population figures in reality. The projections are also less reliable over longer stretches of time, as the assumptions underlying them are more likely to have changed. Last of all, the projections for smaller areas – such as those within the dashboard – are less likely to be reliable than those for larger areas, as smaller deviations from the existing trends will have alarger impacts. The projections are developed using historic data, after all, not a crystal ball!

Hopefully, you will find this data offers an interesting, insightful, and ultimately impactful view of who lives in your local area. Ideally, you will also find that our new dashboard means interacting with and understanding the data is much easier.

We’d love to hear about how you use the data and the dashboard, and you can feedback using the survey built into the dashboard itself or by getting in touch via [email protected] – please let us know what you think.


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