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Programme for Government: NHS app among digital promises
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Programme for Government: NHS app among digital promises 

Minsters have put digital at the centre of their national policy agenda with a wide-ranging series of technology-led initiatives in the annual programme for government.

Speaking at parliament yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon set out plans for a record increase in frontline health spending, actions to drive forward a National Care Service, and a system providing low-income families with free childcare.

But the first minister also promised that this year’s programme will “support and promote the digital economy” – how?

Digital health

The new legislative plan promises to deliver a “safe and secure digital app” by the end of this parliament that will support Scots to access health information and services directly.

The platform, which will launch following public consultation, will also allow people to self‑manage, access and contribute to their own health and care information.

The government will also develop a digital prescription service, freeing up capacity for healthcare professionals to see more patients and making it easier for patients to access their medicines quickly and safely.

Over the next year, ministers will begin work on an expanded Digital Mental Health Programme that will increase self‑referral to online treatments, establish a Mental Health Innovation Hub and explore options for an online national psychology service.

Connectivity

The first minister has also pledged that the new programme will ensure a connected Scotland and “tackle the digital divide”.

Sturgeon said: “Our Connecting Scotland programme will help connect 300,000 households who might not otherwise have the means to do so.

“Our R100 programme will help make superfast broadband available to every business and every household in Scotland.”

The programme also outlines plans to utilise building regulations from 2022 to require developers to deploy and optimise digital connectivity in all new housing developments.

And to create the conditions to stimulate further commercial investment in full fibre, the government will extend the current 10-year 100 per cent non-domestic rates relief on new fibre in Scotland by a further five years.

Tech economy

In her statement yesterday, the first minister committed to supporting more businesses to harness the potential of technology.

The government will provide £100 million over this parliament in a range of programmes to increase the digital capacity and capability of business.

Sturgeon said: “We have opened the £25 million Digital Boost Fund to help small and medium sized enterprises get access to both the skills and equipment they need.”

This was accompanied by a pledge to “continue to implement the Logan Review of the technology sector – for example by supporting tech scalers in six of our cities.”

Over the next year the government will action key recommendations from the review, backed by an initial £7 million funding for the programme. This includes an initial £4 million this year – increasing
to £30 million – to support the next generation of Scottish start‑ups through a national network of tech scalers.

These will open by 2022, providing “world‑class training and mentoring” for tech entrepreneurs, and opportunities to network and share ideas. As part of their work, all training and education offered will be accessible virtually, ensuring access for businesses in rural areas.

Digital education

One of the key themes running throughout the programme is support for children and young people.

Over the course of the next parliament, the government will provide a tech device for every school-aged child – helping an estimated 700,000 children by 2026.

The first minister said: “We will also provide every child with an electronic device and a connection to get online – recognising that this is as essential to education today as jotters and pencils were in years gone by.”

The programme report reads: “Remote learning during the pandemic has underlined the importance for children and young people having access to a digital device and connectivity to use it.”

To tackle any digital divide in further and higher education, the government will invest £5 million a year over the course of this parliament for universities, colleges, and community learning providers to purchase digital equipment and provide access to wi-fi to enable low-income students access to online learning.

SNP ministers will also develop a National Digital Academy, bringing provision of Highers to
a wide variety of learners irrespective of location, school, or age, with scoping work in the coming
year to support its design.

Additionally, the new programme outlines plans to launch the Scottish Teachers Advancing Computing Science (STACS) – an organisation run for and by Computing Science teachers to share best practice in computing science across all schools.

The programme sets out ministers’ plans to begin delivering a five-year, £35 million programme to “digitally transform” Scotland’s planning system.

The document states: “This year, to support community involvement in shaping local areas, we will embark on a pilot roll out of a Placebuilder digital engagement tool. We will also begin to comprehensively improve the online process of applying for planning permission, to speed up the process and provide greater clarity for applicants.”

The government will also continue to work with creative and cultural businesses to enhance their digital and data skills, building on its £1 million Creative Digital Initiative launched in 2021, and support them in gaining access to new opportunities and markets, as well as to develop data‑driven innovation in the creative industries.

Finally, while the power of technology to enable businesses to prosper is recognised in the legislative plan, it is noted there is a “significant risk” that it can create an uneven playing field – ministers will therefore explore the introduction of a new national digital sales tax, levelling the tax field between high street and online retailers.

Other key commitments for over the course of this parliament include:

  • increasing frontline health spending by 20%, up by at least £2.5 billion by 2026-27
  • undertaking the biggest public service reform since the founding of the NHS – the creation of a National Care Service – with legislation brought forward by June next year
  • improving national wellbeing with increased direct mental health investment of at least 25%, with £120 million this year to support the recovery and transformation of services
  • investing £250 million to tackle the drugs deaths emergency over the next five years
  • expanding the Scottish Child Payment to under-16s by the end of next year and doubling it to £20-a-week as soon as possible after that, with a £520 bridging payment given to every child in receipt of free school meals this year
  • investing a further £1 billion to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap and providing councils with funding to recruit 3,500 additional teachers and 500 classroom assistants
  • providing free childcare to low income families before and after school and during holidays, and expanding free early learning and childcare to one and two year olds
  • investing £100 million over the next three years to support frontline services for preventing violence against women and girls

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