The Outer Hebrides is estimated to have had the highest population decline in Scotland over the last 12 months.

The population is estimated to have decreased over the last year primarily because of what’s known as ‘negative natural change’, which was -107, due to 336 deaths and 229 births.

A socio-economic report just published by the Development department of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar reveals that the population estimate for the Outer Hebrides is 26,900 as at 30 June 2016.

This represents a decrease in the overall population of 170 persons (-0.6%) from mid 2015 to mid 2016.

The Outer Hebrides, along with Argyll & Bute and Dumfries & Galloway, had the highest percentage of those aged 65 and over at 25%, compared to the Scottish average of 18%.

Over the next 25 years the working age in the Outer Hebrides is projected to decline by 27% by the year 2039.

The biggest decline is expected in those aged 16 to 24 years with a decrease of 36%.

The report states that current household projections identify a 0.4% decrease (48 households) in the number of households in the Outer Hebrides from 12,920 in 2014 to 12,872 in 2039.

The number of households keep increasing up to the year 2029 to 13,207 households and then decreases to 12,872 in 2039.

Over the same period the population is projected to decrease by -14%. The average household size is projected to decrease from 2.08 in 2014 to 1.79 in 2039 (the smallest in Scotland).

Birth rates in the Outer Hebrides continue to be much lower than the Scottish average.

In addition, death rates in the Outer Hebrides are much higher than the Scottish average.

Over the period 2006 to 2016 the highest birth rate in the Outer Hebrides was 10.4 (per 1,000 persons), while in Scotland it was 11.6. The lowest birth rate was 8.1 in the Outer Hebrides and was 10.1 in Scotland. The highest death rate in the Outer Hebrides was 15, while in Scotland it was 10.9.

The lowest death rate was 10.4 in the Outer Hebrides and 10.2 in Scotland.

This is mainly due to the continual negative natural change that the population of the Outer Hebrides is decreasing. In order to counteract this, net migration needs to be positive.

However, over the last few years net migration has also been estimated to be negative, leading to a further decrease in population.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar SNP Group leader, Councillor Gordon Murray, commented: “This socio-economic update makes grim reading when you see that the Outer Hebrides is again estimated to have the highest population decline in Scotland.

“Over the next 25 years the working age in the Western Isles is projected to decline by 27% by the year 2039.

“The biggest decline is expected in those aged 16 to 24 years with a decrease of 36%.

“These stark predictions come with a warning that if the current Leadership and Committee Chairs do not change their way of doing things, these statistics will be realised.” 

He added: “The Comhairle urgently needs a comprehensive change agenda - shared by all Members and led from the front to tackle the big issues facing our Islands. 

“An agenda which would put communities first and empower and support them to shape their own future.

“Our manifesto shows what could be done with a bit of vision.”