Programme for Government: the key areas for digital

Technology – including a new AI strategy, investment in skills and national infrastructure – has been given a prominent role in the Scottish Government’s new policy proposals for 2020 and beyond.

In its annual ‘Programme for Government’, the Scottish Government has unveiled a series of priorities for the next year, including climate change, poverty, education, health and social care and economic development.

Scotland is set to be at the ‘forefront of innovation in new low emissions technologies and products, stimulating inward investment and supporting new and existing high quality jobs and sustainable supply chains,’ according to the policy document, which was launched this week by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

Among the measures to be taken on the ‘climate emergency’ include producing a National Planning Framework – covering the next 30 years until 2050 – during which time Scotland will move towards a net zero emissions contributor. Part of that will include a programme of digital transformation to make better use of digital technologies and data, including a digital mapping prototype to support co‑ordinated and sustainable development.

In health and care, a range of digital measures are set to be introduced to improve public health and patient outcomes, including the Attend Anywhere service, which allows patients to video call their GPs; the programme, which has been trialled in certain geographies in Scotland, will now be rolled out across primary care and social care services so more services can be delivered closer to people’s homes.

The policy commitments also signal an intent to ‘trial new approaches to digital services’, focusing on frailty, breathlessness and survivors of abuse, and ‘opening up services to those who may struggle to travel due to their condition using technology such as video consultations, telecare or home health monitoring.’

And Public Health Scotland, which launches next year, will increasingly use data and intelligence as part of its role in stimulating public health improvement across the whole of Scotland. At the innovation end of the scale, precision medicine – which seeks to deliver more targeted medical interventions, based on an individual’s unique genetic profile, rather than ‘trial and error’ prescribing, will continue to be pursued as part of a life sciences sector commitment to progressing academic and industry collaboration on new digital technologies, big data and genomics.

In her foreword, the First Minister highlights a need to create more ‘digitally-enabled’ schools, which is to be supported by a £1bn capital investment plan; further on in the PfG, the document reveals some policy proposals on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths), which include providing bursaries for career changers to train as STEM teachers and providing £2million of grants to support ongoing STEM professional learning in schools, early learning and community learning settings. New ‘STEM Awards’ will also be set up for early learning and childcare providers and schools to ‘inspire and reward excellence in STEM’ and work with 80 early learning and community learning centres and schools to trial a new Young STEM leaders award to support young people to inspire each other to get involved in STEM.

In terms of economic development, a new four-year Foreign Direct Investment Growth Plan is due to be launched by next summer, which will focus on ‘attracting investment to the sectors where Scotland is currently world-class as well as building on emerging expertise and enabling technology in addressing major global challenges around ageing, climate change and wellbeing.’

More widely in business, the government proposes to spend ‘at least’ £37m that it distributed last year on research and development (R&D) co-funding for innovation, over the course of the next two years, pledging to simplify and streamline R&D support and provide a single application route for businesses.

On digital infrastructure, contracts to deliver the R100 (reaching 100% of premises) superfast broadband programme will be issued by the end of the year, with deployment beginning “as soon as possible thereafter”; that commitment has been delayed following a postponement earlier this year.

A new Scotland 5G Centre will also be set up to drive forward a national strategy unveiled a fortnight ago; it will create a Scotland-wide approach to 5G Rural First, building on the trials carried out in Orkney. To ensure commercial operators are involved, the government states that it intends to host a roundtable with mobile and digital providers and businesses to secure their commitment to delivery of the 5G strategy and maximise full fibre coverage throughout Scotland.

Digital identity is included in this year’s programme for government, with the document stating its intention to ensure that every citizen can access digital public services securely and in a way that protects their privacy and personal data. Two years of research has gone into the project and an early version is set to be deployed to support the new Social Security Scotland agency, which will begin to distribute benefits from 2020.

Data-driven innovation also features in the PfG and a data-led initiative will be pursued to tackle childhood obesity as well as other projects around child services and investigating the causes of poverty.

The second phase of a Data Science Accelerator programme also launches this month; open to a wider group of public sector bodies than ever before, a call is set to be issued for artificial intelligence projects to help government tackle complex issues such as climate change, awarding grants of up to £100,000 to ‘foster new ideas and develop practical solutions’.

Fintech is also mentioned in the programme and the government will continue to support FinTech Scotland in building Scotland’s fintech sector; for the first time, the Scottish Government is set to ‘examine the treatment of crypto assets and related technologies in Scottish legislation’.

This year, Scottish Government will fund an innovation challenge alongside CENSIS to examine cyber resilience in the Internet of Things. Various new initiatives will also be launched to increase the takeup of cybersecurity skills among young people.

A national Artificial Intelligence (AI) strategy is to be released outlining the economic and social benefits of the technology, the document reveals, and the Scottish Government will set out principles and frameworks on how Scotland can become an ‘ethical digital nation’. A new ‘Research Data Scotland’ service will launch in spring next year, providing support for researchers to access and use data about people, places and businesses ‘in a secure setting for public benefit and help to attract investment to Scotland’.

Other digital measures in the PfG include:

  • Investment in an evidence base for Mobility as a Service to provide innovative solutions to reduce reliance on private cars by integrating different modes of transport;
  • £13.5m funding secured for The Data Lab, Scotland’s innovation centre for data and AI;
  • Advances in Connected and Autonomous Vehicles or driverless vehicles: supporting an autonomous bus trial on trunk roads between Fife and Edinburgh starting next year.
  • Construction to begin on the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS): the £48 million investment secures the creation of a digital factory in Renfrewshire;
  • Work has begun to secure agreement with mobile operators to deliver the 45 new mast sites currently in the programme by 2022, supported by a £25 million investment;
  • A digital skills programme to help rural businesses access all the digital support currently available to enable them to upskill and expand;
  • Help for businesses to transition to highly-digitalised, low carbon business models;
  • Continued investment in Scotland’s digital infrastructure to accelerate growth in tourism: a free open public Wi-Fi system will be created at 10 sites on the North Coast 500 Route, adding to the existing Highland Council Wi-Fi project;
  • A new Scottish UNESCO digital trail, providing an online experience featuring all of Scotland’s UNESCO sites;
  • A new digital portal to supports exporters, as well as providing them with mentoring and skills development;
  • A revamp of the GlobalScot network with a new digital platform and promotional material, which will see it expand from 600 members to over 2,000;
  • Expanding graduate Apprenticeships available in critical areas such as civil engineering, digital, cyber security and data science, while also continuing to encourage women to apply.