The impact of the Covid-19 lockdown on Scottish cities has been larger than similar sized places across the UK, according to data from tech firms.

Experts say that data harvested from people’s mobile phones show that city centre activity in Scotland’s largest cities started to decline two weeks before the official lockdown began.

Since formal rules on movement were introduced to manage the Covid-19 outbreak, city centre activity in every main city in Scotland has seen a significant decline. In the UK, only London has seen a larger decline than Glasgow.

Google Mobility Report data, based on an analysis of location data from thousands of digital devices in Scotland, shows that all areas of Scotland have seen large shifts in behaviour. The data covers most local authorities in Scotland except for “very rural” areas such as Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.

An exclusive analysis of Google Mobility Report data for Scotland by The Ferret shows that for people in larger cities and predominantly rural areas the Covid19 behaviour changes have been largest. People living in other urban areas outside Scotland’s main cities seem to have been less able to respond.

Our analysis looked at whether richer areas were able to respond more to the lockdown rules than poorer areas, but found a weak correlation between Scottish Government deprivation statistics and the Google data. Some relatively poor areas such as Dundee have seen large behaviour changes, whilst some relatively affluent areas, including East Renfrewshire, have seen lower impacts.

However, the data does show that Scotland’s larger cities and areas that are predominantly rural, tend to have seen larger behaviour changes.

It is areas that are classified as “mostly urban,” which are away from the main city centres – places such as North and South Lanarkshire, Falkirk and Fife – that have seen the weakest behaviour changes as a result of the lockdown rules.

According to Google, South Lanarkshire showed the least behaviour change in the whole of the UK when it came to use of parks. Activity in South Lanarkshire’s parks only dropped by six percent, compared with a typical 39 percent drop across Scotland.

A separate analysis of mobile phone location data conducted by digital marketing firm Locomizer, confirms that the behaviour change in Scottish cities has been significant – even when compared with similar sized cities and towns across the UK.

Experts from the think tank Centre for Cities studied the Locomizer data and concluded that it shows people in areas with large numbers of high value jobs in sectors such as accounting and legal and finance, can more readily work from home, therefore, finding it easier to change their behaviour.

According to their analysis of Locomizer data for Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen, it is Glasgow that has seen the largest decline in activity – including at weekends.

They also found that city centre workers throughout the UK started to change their behaviour two weeks before the official lockdown rules were introduced.

Paul Swinney, Director of Policy and Research for Centre for Cities said: “Looking across British cities shows that people have tended to change their behaviour more in larger cities than smaller ones in response to the threat of coronavirus. And this is the case in Scotland too.”

“Looking at workers travelling into city centres during the week, Glasgow has seen the largest drop off.”

Swinney suggests this change partly reflects “the larger share of jobs in the city centre that can be done from home.”

The Centre for Cities analysis also looked at the impact the Covid-19 lockdown rules on cities throughout the UK, and this has shown that all the main Scottish cities have seen larger behaviour changes when compared with similar sized counterparts south of the border.

Only London has seen a greater reduction in city centre worker activity than Glasgow as a response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

“Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh saw drop offs greater than for similar sized cities south of the border,” said Swinney, adding that even at weekends the effect is marked.

“Looking at people going in on Saturdays shows similar patterns, with Glasgow seeing a large drop off into its city centre, in line with cities like Manchester and Birmingham. Edinburgh also saw a large fall – much larger than comparably-sized English cities- with the number of people in Edinburgh city centre on March 21st being around a third of what it was on March 7th.”

The think tank also noted that cities have been the focus of the Covid-19 outbreak, as people in cities live at higher population densities and in smaller homes.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government confirmed that it was using data from Google to inform the decisions taken about the Covid-19 response.

They said: “The Scottish Government is using a range of information and data to understand the impact of the social interventions in place in Scotland. This includes the publicly available Google COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports.”

The government spokesperson declined to confirm whether it was considering putting in place different arrangements in different parts of the country in order to better manage the outbreak.

“The government is using a range of sources and will take decisions based on the best scientific advice available at the time,” said a spokesperson.

The Ferret has previously reported how the the Scottish and UK government’s have responded so far to the Covid-19 crisis, with stories about  homeless people, disabled people, asylum seekers and people with addictions.

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