Digital connectivity spend set to double in 2020/21 budget

The Scottish Government spending on digital connectivity infrastructure projects is to double in the 2020/21 budget, Scotland’s digital economy and public finance minister has announced.

Under spending plans unveiled by Kate Forbes MSP at the Scottish Parliament yesterday, the 2020/21 budget for digital connectivity is to rise to £63.4m, up from £32.9m in 2019/2020.

In an explainer section on the Scottish Government website, the additional investment is ascribed to a ‘lack of targeted investment from the UK Government to address infrastructure gaps in Scotland’, which has resulted in the Scottish Government ‘intervening’.

The measures are designed to ‘enhance Scotland’s digital infrastructure, extend connectivity across the country and showcase the innovation that this enables’. It states: “Building on the success of the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) programme, we have established the Reaching 100% (R100) programme which will invest £600 million in future-proofed digital infrastructure that, alongside commercial deployment, will extend superfast broadband access to all of Scotland.

“We also continue to invest to improve mobile coverage – through the Scottish 4G Infill Programme, which is delivering new masts to address mobile coverage ‘not-spots’, and through the Scotland 5G Centre, which will demonstrate how 5G and the technology that it enables can drive innovation and efficiency across all sectors. Collectively, these programmes will drive a step change in the quality of digital infrastructure across Scotland and make a key contribution to our climate change ambitions.”

The budget reflects also a shift in emphasis towards digital technologies enabling a swifter transition to a low carbon economy. One of the new aims is to establish Scotland as a ‘green data hosting location’ and use Internet of Things (IoT) and other data-driven technology to help create a low carbon economy by driving innovation and efficiency across government and the wider economy.

‘Our aim is to support the creation of a highly-digitised, low carbon economy and addressing climate change and reducing emissions is at the heart of our planning, budget and delivery processes,’ it adds.

The commitment states: “World-class digital infrastructure is vital to delivering social, economic and environmental benefits to all of Scotland – enabling innovation, helping to reduce travel, opening up employment and leisure opportunities and addressing isolation and remoteness. Enhanced digital connectivity across all of Scotland will be a driver for sustainable and inclusive economic growth and a key enabler of tackling climate change and transitioning to a low carbon economy.”

It adds: “Digital connectivity will underpin the transition to a low carbon economy. The full benefits will be realised as businesses, individuals and the public sector translate the power of cloud computing, 5G, IoT and Big Data into new business models, practices, products and services. 5G alone has the potential to add £17 billion to Scotland’s GDP and create 160,000 new jobs by 2035. 5G-enabled smart grids could save 6.4 million tonnes of CO2; and digital traffic management systems could reduce congestion and CO2 emissions by an estimated 370,000 tonnes per year.”