SCOTLAND'S population is predicted to shift from the east to the west and away from rural areas in the coming years as people move to take advantage of better housing and jobs.

A task force of Scottish Government ministers has been set to prepare policies to manage the country's changing demographic, which are expected to see families leaving areas such as Inverclyde, Ayrshire, Argyll and the Western Isles for Edinburgh, Fife and the Lothians.

It comes against a backdrop of a falling birthrate and an increasingly elderly population, which will see any future population growth driven my migration from overseas and the rest of the UK.

The challenge will be to ensure those left behind still have access to decent public services and functioning economies while ensuring no skills shortage appears as the labour pool recedes.

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There will also be a focus on the dispersal of population across Scotland and how the economic benefits of future population growth are spread across all communities.

According to official figures, the population of the Western Isles is expected to drop be more than 1,000 by 2026, and by more than 3,000 in Inverclyde.

Argyll and Bute, which covers a large part of the west coast, is predicted to lose 2,900 people in the same timeframe, as is North Ayrshire. Statisticians estimate a fall of the population will drop by 1126 in North Ayrshire.

However, the population of Midlothian is expected to swell by more than 11,000 in the coming decade, while East Lothian will see the numbers living within its borders increase by more than 9,000.

Edinburgh is predicted to see a demographic boom, with an extra 37,000 souls coming to live and work in the city. Glasgow is one area in the west immune to the flight eastwards, with its population predicted to grow by 23,900 in the next seven years. It currently stands at around 600,000.

Faisal Choudhry, Director of Scottish Research at estate agents Savills, said that the swing from west to east was being driven by the demand for affordable homes and a boom in the economy around Edinburgh.

He said: "There have been a number of large-scale new build housing developments in Falkirk, Bathgate, Fife and across the Lothians and this is bringing people to the area.

"While there has been some work done in the West, it has been longer in coming and is not on the same scale.

"People are taking advantage of this, as well as the growth in the financial sector and the tech industry in Edinburgh."

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He added that a brain drain from rural areas and post-industrial towns such as Greenock had been apparent for some time, while people were also seeking lower house prices.

Mr Choudhry said: "People ahve been priced out of Edinburgh and Glasgow and are moving out to the new builds in the surrounding areas.

"And they will always go where there are employment opportunities, a strong economy and good schools on offer."

Earlier this week, official statistics showed that 12,642 babies were born in Scotland during the first quarter of 2019, the second lowest figure since civil registration began in 1855.

Scotland’s population of 5.4 million has been growing since the turn of the century, but only because of migration, largely from continental Europe.

In 2017, the latest year records area available for, deaths outstripped births by about 5,000, with the 52,861 births registered being the lowest since 2003.

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Cabinet Secretary for Tourism, Culture and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop said: “We need to grow our population to ensure we have sustainable, vibrant and resilient communities and drive improvements in inclusive growth. In doing so, it is also imperative that we maintain inward migration to help grow the economy.

“It is welcome that people are living longer, though the continued availability of labour is essential to support our public services, boost our economy and address potential skills shortages in all sectors of the labour market.

“The focus of this task group will be on identifying the good work that is already underway across Government, intensifying that work where needed as well as identifying and addressing further opportunities for change.”