The tech manifesto: incoming government urged to invest in digital
Business groups have united in a call for the incoming government at Holyrood to invest in connectivity, digital skills and the tech ecosystem – to drive Scotland’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Three industry representative bodies and a think tank have issued their own manifesto demands calling on politicians to deliver on support for digital infrastructure and investment in the tech economy as the nation prepares to go to the polls on Thursday.
The Federation of Small Businesses Scotland, the Institute of Directors Scotland, tech trade body ScotlandIS and the economy think tank the Fraser of Allander Institute have each called on whichever political party forms an administration following the vote on May 6 to take an active role in helping tech companies to scale up and compete on a global stage.
Ahead of what is being billed as the most important election since the Scottish Parliament was re-established in 1999, the organisations are presenting a united front in demanding much more focus on building the digital economy.
Federation of Small Businesses Scotland:
There’s certainly no shortage of appetite among Scotland’s small businesses to harness the productivity potential that digital technology offers. The huge over-subscription of the initial DigitalBoost funding round stands testament to that.
Indeed, figures from last year showed that Covid had led to 20% of small firms adopting new digital technologies. And, even before the pandemic struck, a clear majority said that digital technologies were important to their plans for growth.
But if they’re to realise the full potential of new tech, many businesses don’t just need money to invest, they need advice to ensure it’s invested to greatest effect – i.e. not spending it on new hardware they don’t need to run software that only does half the job.
It therefore makes sense for the non-tech-expert business owner to have ready access to information about what’s on today’s market and what it can do. That would let them have a more confident discussion with a business adviser or IT consultant about what they need to implement.
All of this, of course, is predicated on having digital infrastructure that’s fit for purpose. While official figures show Scotland’s mobile and broadband coverage both improving, making the delivery match the promises has to be the goal. You can’t deny that the Scottish Government’s R100 programme has improved broadband coverage, but, equally, you couldn’t say it’s delivered the universal connectivity promised. Similarly, the UK Government’s most recent programmes to improve mobile data coverage haven’t yet delivered at scale.
Colin Borland, Director of Devolved Nations, Federation of Small Businesses
Institute of Directors Scotland:
The key issue being faced by many businesses, especially those in rural areas, is the lack of connectivity to high speed, reliable broadband. To boost the digital economy, we need to work harder in ensuring any subsequent rollouts allow businesses to take advantage of technology to improve operations, as well as customer experience.
This may mean we need a much more pragmatic approach to the rollout, and the business community will have to work with BT Openreach and other partners to make more progress ahead of the current 2023/24 commitments.
On training, we need to see a significant increase in funding support, both to train our future workforce, and retrain our existing one. This is necessary at all levels, from classrooms to boardrooms, and we may even need to consider a private/public partnership to deliver the high-quality tech training necessary.
Post Covid working practices will embrace new and existing technologies, which can be truly mobile, so we should harness the expertise of tech hubs to accelerate the growth of start-ups, or to further scale up existing tech businesses. Providing joined up seed funding would also encourage future techpreneurs to enter the market.
And finally, let’s really showcase what we already have when it comes to tech and digital here in Scotland, as some of it is the very best in the world. From gaming tech to biotech, digital design to the future of smart manufacturing; Scotland is leading from the front on a global stage, which presents real and backable business opportunities.
Aidan O’Carroll, Chair of IoD Scotland
Digital underpins everything we do now in society, but the reality is that Scotland is not currently producing enough graduates to hit the demand levels of our burgeoning tech sector and so work is needed to be done to bridge the country’s digital skills gap.
As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, we have an opportunity to build back better, to reshape our society, to deliver highly skilled and fulfilling jobs and to drive efficiencies and productivity gains in our public services and established businesses. In particular, we see Climate Tech, GovTech and Space Tech as being the three areas whereby Scotland has enormous opportunity.
There have been positive steps taken in recent months such as the launch of the Scottish Government’s AI strategy – one that focusses on the need for collective leadership, accessibility and ensuring the benefits of AI are felt across the nation. Scotland’s potential as a Digital powerhouse will only be realised, however, with the right financial backing, strong leadership and a collaborative, partnership approach.
Karen Meechan, Interim CEO at ScotlandIS
Fraser of Allander Institute:
The pace of technological change is transforming the way in which businesses operate. It is also turning on its head how consumers shop and interact with each other. For many sectors, particularly those in the services industry, there is the potential that certain tasks may be automated in the future. Modelling suggests that around 3 in 10 current jobs in Scotland contain tasks that have high potential to be automated, with tasks in retail and wholesale, manufacturing and administrative & support services particularly ripe for automation.
Of course, new jobs will also be created as businesses embrace new technology. The digital adoption that we have seen in the wake of the pandemic has the potential to have long-lasting consequences for our economy, with new ways of working and new ways to interact with customers.
Government has a role here to ensure that businesses in Scotland are ready to take these opportunities. Investment in infrastructure, particularly on broadband connectivity are essential, but also investment in the tech ecosystem to ensure that the innovations that happen in Scotland can turn into successful enterprises at scale.
Mairi Spowage, interim Director of the Fraser of Allander Institute