Tech sector boss highlights ‘missed opportunity’ of cabinet reshuffle

The head of Scotland’s digital technologies trade body has said the new Scottish Government ministerial appointments represent a ‘missed opportunity’ for the sector.

Polly Purvis, Chief Executive of ScotlandIS, has said she would have liked to have seen more focus in yesterday’s cabinet reshuffle on the creation of a strategic ‘digital economy’ role.

Purvis, whose organisation has more than 300 members who are part of an industry now worth around £5bn to the Scottish economy, said: “Government needs to have digital high up its agenda. We need to see the detail of the new portfolios. I should be surprised if they haven’t got a focus on digital across many cabinet roles – but I do think it’s a missed opportunity to have somebody with a clear responsibility for the digital economy.”

She added: “The concern from our point of view would be that there isn’t specific acknowledgement of the importance of digital in the cabinet appointments so far.”

In yesterday’s reshuffle Derek Mackay MSP took on the portfolio for ‘Digital Public Services’ as part of his wider role as Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution. He replaces John Swinney in the post, who takes over as Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills.

Purvis said the energy and drive shown by Mr Swinney for the digital technologies sector would be clearly missed and she held out hope that he would continue to champion digital as part of his new role.

“John Swinney has been in his previous role a very good ambassador and champion of digital and a supporter of the digital technologies industry in Scotland; and I would hate to see with his new role, which is clearly going to be a very full job, but I suspect he won’t have that level of spare capacity to continue with that role.”

“If John isn’t going to continue to be in that role, then who is? Who is going to champion the industry, but more importantly not just champion this industry – it’s more that whole piece about delivery of a digital economy across all the various elements of the public sector and across the economy in general. That’s the bit that I think they’ve missed an opportunity on.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government will maintain its strong focus on Scotland’s digital ambitions. We have made £15.5 million available over the last three years to help develop Scotland’s digital economy and the skills that it will need to flourish. Polly Purvis has played a welcome and vital role in the public/private sector partnership that oversees these efforts, which will continue over the coming years.

“The appointment of Fergus Ewing as the new Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity – and a commitment to ensure that 100 per cent of premises across Scotland have access to super-fast broadband by 2021 – also underlines the priority attached to the role that digital technology will play in improving productivity, innovation and growth.”