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Scotland launches digital strategy

Updated strategy aims to equip Scotland for technological transformation post-coronavirus and focuses on building an ethical digital nation

The Scottish government has published a new digital strategy, aiming to “forge” the country’s future in a digital world. The updated strategy aims to put inclusion at its heart, and focuses on developing Scotland as an ethical digital nation that is collaborative and inclusive.

A series of principles underpin the strategy, including building a skilled digital workforce, digital leadership and culture, and being a technology-enabled, inclusive, ethical and user-focused country.

“For Scotland to thrive in this digital world, our response must embrace three key opportunities: designing and implementing technology in a secure, efficient and user-centred way; realising the potential of data to improve services, increase efficiency and deliver better outcomes; and transforming our culture and the way we work through digital thinking, with its emphasis on openness, networking and agility,” said the strategy.

It said Scotland has long had a vision of becoming a greener, open and outward-looking nation, but the Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the context in which it will be delivered. It said attention is now focused on the importance of wellbeing, and that the increase in technology use during the pandemic has also highlighted how being excluded from the digital world could increase a sense of isolation.

The impact of Brexit also plays a key role, as Scotland needs to find new ways of ensuring it remains an attractive destination for talent and investment, said the strategy.

“Together, we will rethink the way we work and support a country that balances and sustains economic, social and environmental wellbeing in a secure and resilient way,” it said.

The strategy comes after the government launched a consultation in October 2020 on how to build a digital Scotland. It is closely aligned with the National Performance Framework, which sets out “the strategic outcomes which collectively describe the kind of Scotland in which people would like to live and guides the decisions and actions of national and local government”.

The strategy aims to deliver on the framework’s vision to embrace the potential of data and digital technology. It wants to build a nation where geography, background or ability is not a barrier to benefiting from digital technology, and wellbeing is safeguarded and enhanced through greater use of technology.

“We can and must build a digital Scotland in which we are open, ethical and working with others to meet new moral, environmental, regulatory and security concerns,” said the strategy.

“Scotland’s National Performance Framework describes our ambitions, providing a vision for national wellbeing across a range of economic, social and environmental factors. These shared national outcomes are as compelling as ever, but the world in which we will achieve them is vastly different from that of the analogue era. It’s a world of speed, responsiveness and interconnections, where consumers are empowered and where new technology companies have transformed the economic order.”

A key enabler to a digital nation is connectivity. Scotland already has the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme, worth £463m, which aims to improve broadband coverage across the country, particularly in rural and remote areas.

Currently, 95% of premises in Scotland can benefit from faster speeds. The government wants to deliver broadband coverage for all, as well as improve 4G mobile coverage, and is pumping £25m into its Scottish 4G infill programme to address mobile “not-spots” in remote communities. This comes as a 2019 Ofcom report found that 20% of Scotland does not have 4G coverage.

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The strategy also aims to address Scotland’s skills shortage, which is restricting growth in the digital sector and the wider economy.

Before the pandemic, research found that only 77% of people in Scotland above the age of 15 could complete all seven tech skills considered to be “foundation level” – 7% below the UK average of 84%.

The Scottish government aims to ensure that digital knowledge and skills has a place in education, that the country can build a digitally skilled workforce and increase diversity in the digital skills pool.

It will also create a Scottish Digital Academy, establish a resource of digital and data experts that the public sector can call upon, and create a Data Science Competency Centre.

In May 2020, the government launched a short-term review of Scotland’s tech sector, which set out a series of recommendations on how to support an innovation ecosystem.

“We will work with public and private sector partners to progress its key recommendations around education, entrepreneurship and investment,” said the strategy.

“This includes the introduction of a national network of tech scalers and the creation of an ecosystem fund that will make strategic investments in the organisations and activities that support our startups to succeed. Examples include investing in key tech conferences, the creation of new startups and extracurricular support to develop the next generation of tech talent.”

Tech scalers will provide “long-term affordable, high-quality incubation space” and education in a range of areas, including Silicon Valley business models, internet-economy working practices, how to manage people and teams, and basic operating hygiene, it said.

Commenting on the strategy, Scottish innovation minister Ivan McKee said digital technology “is a source of incredible opportunity – to open new markets, work in new ways, tackle climate change and make links across the globe”.

He added: “The pandemic reminds us every day that access to the internet is an essential lifeline and I am determined to ensure that no one is left behind.

“Progress has been made to address this, with Connecting Scotland bringing 55,000 people online by the end of this year. Now we want to go further and achieve world-leading levels of inclusion – as part of an ethical digital nation in which everybody has the skills, connectivity and devices required to reap the benefits of technology.

“The response to the pandemic has seen the public and private sectors deliver new services online and at speed. We will build on that momentum to support Scotland’s people and its businesses to thrive in the digital world.”

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