The Scottish Government yesterday set out its Programme for Government for the year leading up to next May's 2021 Scottish Parliament Elections. Following the undeniable impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on digital adoption, the programme features a strong focus on technology and the tech sector and the adoption of technology across both the public and private sectors.

The Programme for Government sets out proposals in relation to:

  • the development of the Scottish tech ecosystem
  • digital adoption
  • taking steps to end digital exclusion; and
  • improving connectivity

The Tech Ecosystem

Last week, the Scottish Government published a review of the Scottish tech ecosystem carried out by Mark Logan, the former COO of Skyscanner. The report looks at how the technology sector can contribute to Scotland's post-Covid-19 recover and what is needed to support and nurture technology businesses in Scotland - from start-up to maturity. 

The report identifies that the Scottish tech eco-system is still a the pre-tipping point phase, where there is not yet a critical mass of start-ups and scale-ups to create a virtuous network effect, whereby the ecosystem is strengthened without the need for intervention.  

The report identifies a three key dependencies and makes a number of recommendations to help Scotland reach the tipping point. These cover:

  • education and talent
  • infrastructure - both the physical environment and social infrastructure
  • funding - including grant funding and public and private sector funding

The Logan Review has been well received by the tech sector, business and the academic sectors.

The Scottish Government has undertaken to implement some of the key recommendations of the Logan Review through:

  • the establishment of a national network of "Tech Scalers" - with the intention of having five world class start-up incubators operational by the end of 2021/22
  • the creation of an Ecosystem Fund that will make strategic investments in the organisations and activities that support start-ups in Scotland. This intention is that this will involve a mix of public and private funding
  • the provision of reskilling opportunities and funding to support the transition to digital careers
  • the expansion of the CivTech programme, through which the technology sector can bring innovative solutions to help solve public sector challenges

While these announcements do not address all the recommendations in the Logan review, they are a welcome first step towards providing Scotland with the tools required to develop a sustainable tech ecosystem.

Digital adoption

Many businesses were able to adapt quickly to remote working and digitisation of products and services during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, many SMEs encountered challenges and are still lacking basic capabilities and skills. Additional funding is being provided for the DigitalBoost programme to assist with this.

The Scottish Government is also going to accelerate digital adoption internally, through investment in shared services and the digitisation of services such as the planning system. A Digital Strategy for Planning will be published later this year.

The importance of data protection and cyber security in service design is also recognised through: 

  • funding to develop pathways of training in cyber security; and
  • a programme, to be led by Skills Development Scotland to broadcast interactive sessions on cyber security to young people in schools and at home.

Digital exclusion

The risk of digital exclusion during the Covid-19 pandemic was recognised early on, and initiatives such as Connecting Scotland and the No One Left Behind initiative saw the public and private sector come together to help those without the necessary skills, equipment or connectivity to access digital services.

As we increasingly move to a digital first world, avoiding digital exclusion of vulnerable groups of individuals becomes ever more important. More funding is therefore being provided for the Connecting Scotland programme to help get 50,000 up to people get online by the end of 2021.

Improving connectivity

Finally, it is recognised that a digital economy is dependant upon access to superfast broadband and mobile connectivity. The R100 programme and Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme continues to help provide full fibre broadband to premises where commercial deployment is not viable. Further funding is also being provided to fill in 40 mobile "notspots" for 4G coverage.

The Government has also undertaken to publish before the end of 2020 rental guidance and standardised documentation under which telecoms companies can use Scottish government premises to site infrastructure. This should speed up and simplify the roll out of further infrastructure improvements.

While many of these announcements are long term projects, and may therefore be subject to change following next May's election, the focus on the importance of technology sector to the Scottish economy and the need to address skills, infrastructure and digital inclusion as part of the wider digitisation of the economy is welcome. It now remains to be seen how quickly these initiatives can be implemented.


Martin Sloan