Argyll & Bute Council leader awaits reply to population letter

Argyll and Bute Council's leader is seeking to involve cabinet ministers in the battle against the area's declining population.

Argyll and Bute Council leader Aileen Morton.

Councillor Aileen Morton has sent a joint letter to finance secretary Derek Mackay, and communities secretary Aileen Campbell, along with the other eight council leaders whose areas are hit by depopulation.

In a report for a full council meeting due to be held this Thursday, Cllr Morton revealed that the letter was sent on October 29 – but no substantive response has been received.

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The council leader in neighbouring West Dunbartonshire has also signed the joint letter, along with the leaders of Inverclyde, Western Isles, Dumfries and Galloway and all three Ayrshire authorities.

Councillor Morton said: “The leaders of the eight western Scottish local authorities affected by depopulation got together for a third session at the conclusion of COSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) leaders on September 28.

“We agreed to send a joint letter – signed by all eight council leaders – to Derek Mackay and Aileen Campbell, highlighting our shared concerns at a developing trend of east-west inequality based on projected population expansion statistics.

“We outlined in our letter the various impacts arising from projected population changes and which risk undermining the sustainability of our communities, as well as the ability of the western Scottish region to deliver inclusive economic growth.

“These include barriers to business sustainability, investment and growth due to scarcity of labour and skills, risks to specific key sectors like agriculture, aquaculture, tourism and food and drink, and threats to public services resulting from reduced funding due to declining population – creating a vicious cycle from which we cannot escape.

“(They also include) inability to recruit in essential areas like health and social care and education, loss of spending power in communities, impacting local business, viability of higher/further education and training offer, and housing issues – including poorly maintained/abandoned private sector and high void rates in the social sector.”

Argyll and Bute is projected to lose two per cent of its households by 2041, despite a population rise over the year to June 2016.

It was one of only four council areas tipped for a population decline by a National Records of Scotland report in July, although the other four councils who signed the document were touted for a minimal increase.

Councillor Morton added: “We made it clear that we acknowledge the substantial investment in hand or planned across Scotland through the Growth Deals programme, but that this approach alone will not address the scale of challenge facing the west coast area.

“We have asked to meet urgently with the two cabinet secretaries to explore a partnership approach to tackling west coast population growth.

“The letter was sent on October 29. At the time of writing we have not received a substantial response but I will keep members updated on our progress.”