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Caithness News Bulletins May 2004

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Recent population projections suggest that, if current trends in migrations, fertility and mortality continue, the total population of Highland will decline by 4% by 2017. 

There will, however, be variations across Highland, so that whilst the population of the Inverness Area will continue to increase, other areas such as Sutherland could experience a more rapid decline. The age structure of the population will also change, with a continued decrease in the younger age groups and a significant increase in the number of people aged 65 and over.

Population change has implications for how public services are targeted and delivered and raises new challenges for public agencies. 

This has prompted The Highland Council to hold a population summit on Wednesday of next week to coincide with the visit to Inverness of the UK Sustainability Commission. The Scottish Commissioner, Raymond Young, will be one of the speakers at the summit, whose aims are to:

  •  Raise awareness of the population projections, their pattern across Highland, what drives them and the policy implications for Highland;

  •  Gain a better understanding of what works in countering the worst effects of the population projections (i.e. an aging and declining population); 

  •  Find new ways of sustaining communities;

  •  Agree what to do next.

More than 100 delegates will attend from the Council, its Community Planning Partners (Highlands and Islands Enterprise, NHS Highland, Communities Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage,  Northern Constabulary and the Highland and Islands Fire Service), the Scottish Executive, MSPs, voluntary sector representatives and the Scottish Council Development and Industry; local businesses and business organisations; the UHI Millenium Institute; Crofters Commission; the Forestry Commission; Age Concern; Highland Community Care Forum; Highland of Scotland Tourist Board and community councillors. 

 In addition to setting out the picture of population change, the summit will include  show casing successes in Highland; learning lessons from the Irish experience; drawing on research findings into why some rural areas perform better then others; looking at the links between the economy and housing; and hearing from community representatives about their experiences and what they think public agencies should do. 

Councillor David Alston, Chairman of The Highland Council’s Renewing Democracy and Community Planning Select Committee, said: "Demographic change is one of the biggest issues confronting the Highlands at this time.  We believe this is the right time to pull the various interested agencies and parties together to identify the main challenges and opportunities and what we do next."

He added: "During the summit, we’ll hear from an older person about their contribution and expectations of service delivery. A working parent will tell her story of how a community developed services to make working and parenting more compatible, with a challenge laid down for the public sector to encourage this community action. We’ll also hear about the pros and cons about being young in Highland and what the agencies can do to help young people make choices around staying, leaving or returning to Highland."

Councillor Ian Ross, Chairman of the Council’s Sustainable Development Select Committee said: "I see population levels and the demographic pattern as both symptoms and goals for a more sustainable Highlands. There is a need to get to the underlying reasons for the current population changes and work towards long-term solutions – promoting the Highlands as a place for families and young people. It is also important to recognise the many opportunities and attractions associated with the Highlands. It is with great justification seen as a clean, healthy and safe place to live – we must build on this. The Highland Council with its partner agencies has also taken significant steps to address many of the challenges – particularly in terms of local access to high quality school education.

"There are a number of key areas where we and others must strive to do more and this summit event is a demonstration of such intent. There is increasing emphasis on the need for affordable housing; improved transport links and options; local availability of higher education; and the maintenance of access to key services – particularly in terms of health care. This must of course be based on the encouragement of enterprise and wealth creation. We then have the crucial mix which provides for a sustainable future for Highland Communities."

He said the participation of the UK Commission on Sustainable Development in the event was particularly important, as it demonstrated their wish to promote the wider principles of sustainability in what some people see as the more remote and rural parts of the UK. "I believe we have much  in terms of challenges and good practice we can share with other areas," he added.