Scotland Democracy, devolution and governance, Housing and planning

Scottish sub-council area population projections published


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The Improvement Service blogs for us about the publication of the sub-council area population projections from the National Records of Scotland (NRS), and the importance of understanding what the projected population is in an area for developing policy, planning, and service delivery


How do we know who lives in our area, what services they need, and what services we will need in the future? Understanding what the population of an area looks like and will look like in the future are essential for providing good quality public services and planning for service delivery. The overall size of a population within a council area, as well as the number of children, older people, and working age people are all crucial to know in order to get the right services to the right people.

Population projections use past and present population size and structures to estimate what the population of an area might look like in the future. By looking at patterns in mortality, fertility, and migration they allow us to see where different people might live in future and the different factors influencing population change. Although they don’t take into account policy decisions, such as house building programmes, they show what will happen if current trends continue.

The National Records of Scotland (NRS) routinely produce population projections at Scotland and Council area level. To supplement this, for the first time anywhere in the UK the Improvement Service, in collaboration with the NRS and with support from the Universities of Manchester and Edinburgh, have produced a standard set of sub-council area population projections covering small areas within all local authorities in Scotland.

These sub-council projections cover 345 areas within Scotland’s 32 local authorities. In consultation with local authorities a standard set of geographies was agreed, with most areas using multi-member wards. The projections were constrained to match NRS sub-national population projections at a council level to ensure consistency with the national statistics. Within these areas the projections also include a breakdown of the age and sex structure covering the period from 2018 up to 2030.

What can I use projections for?

Population projections are a great source of information about what councils can expect demand from their populations to look like in future. They can be used in developing policy, planning, and service delivery. Examples of their use include providing childcare provision, housing and land use planning, health care planning, and understanding the implications of our aging population.

Demographics also have a key link to a number of outcomes for people. In particular health outcomes, such as hospital admissions and the risk of illness, are more likely to affect older people. These projections also shine a light on the rural communities that are depopulating with falling and increasingly elderly populations.

Not all local authorities have capacity to produce their own population projections for small areas to complement the national and sub-national projections produced by the NRS. By producing this standard set of projections all local authorities will now have access to projections for small areas based on a standard set of assumptions.

The standard set of projections is, however, only one part of a package of support that has been developed by the NRS, which is designed to allow local authorities to create their own projections for specified areas within a council. Using this support local authorities can specify their own assumptions and use local knowledge to create alternative scenarios, such as high levels of migration. This will allow local authorities to meet their own needs and to forecast the impact of policy decisions. The support includes guidance, training videos, and a data entry tool to produce custom small areas.

We’re also really interested to hear about how local authorities and others are using these projections, or if you have any ideas about other ways to share and display this data pleas get in touch at [email protected].

You can access detailed and summary projections for each local authority area on the Improvement Service website, and find all of the additional support provided by the NRS on their website here.


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