ScotlandIS is calling on all political parties to focus on fostering growth in the digital technologies sector as it launches its manifesto ahead of the Scottish Parliament election.
Describing the sector as ‘the invisible industry that is changing the world’, the trade body says that better connectivity for every citizen, a workforce equipped for the future and greater digital inclusion will help Scotland to achieve its potential as a digital nation. It also highlights three significant opportunities for growth: exports, data science, and cybersecurity.
The sector has grown substantially over the last five years and ScotlandIS believes that the industry has the potential to double in size if Government and industry work together to create a climate for growth.
Developed in consultation with its membership, the ScotlandIS manifesto calls on the next Scottish Government to accelerate the availability of next generation connectivity, particularly in rural areas, with every individual having access to a minimum broadband speed of 10Mbit/s and 4G mobile coverage, increasing to a minimum of 500Mbit/s ultrafast broadband and 5G mobile by 2025.
It also recommends that free Wi-Fi access become the norm in town and cities, starting with the opening up of Wi-Fi infrastructure funded by the public sector. At the same time, it should ensure greater digital inclusion, by creating a Scotland-wide public education programme to help the 1 in 7 Scots who are currently excluded. The Government should lead by example in ensuring digital literacy across its own staff at all levels.
There should be a focus on fostering tech cluster growth, with new clusters encouraged in Aberdeen and Inverness, and growth targets for Edinburgh and Glasgow to outperform successful cities such as Stockholm and Berlin.
To achieve this, ScotlandIS is calling for a detailed analysis of digital technologies communities to provide a baseline for local growth strategies. The incoming Government must also support development and expansion of a range of business incubators and accelerators, and encourage successful technology business people to return to Scotland.
The skills shortage remains a critical issue so Scotland must create the workforce of the future, by engaging and exciting young people, upskilling teachers, ensuring education provision meets industry needs and, upskilling and reskilling the current workforce. It should also address the gender balance and attract more women into careers in tech.
Skills recommendations include continuing investment in the roll out of the Skills Investment Plan for ICT and Digital Technologies, equipping schools with devices such as the Raspberry Pi, and reassessing how computer science is taught in schools.
ScotlandIS is also calling for the next Government to improve access to growth capital by finding mechanisms to encourage crowdfunding, providing cornerstone funding in new venture capital funds through the Scottish Investment Bank, and by attracting international VC companies to open local offices.
It should build on the research strengths in Scotland’s academic institutions and stimulate the developing collaboration between the innovation centres such as The Data Lab and the Digital Health Institute.
Polly Purvis, chief executive of ScotlandIS, says: “We are at the beginning of the next information revolution. Scotland has the opportunity to convert our undeniable potential into a reality by creating an effective digital economy, which could translate into an extra 70,000 jobs in five years.
“In particular, we must leverage the current global opportunities in data science and cybersecurity as well as working to increase exports. Our research suggests that there is significant appetite among Scottish businesses to expand international sales and this should be encouraged, increasing the number of companies who understand how to export successfully.”
She continues: “Scotland is on the road to becoming a world class digital nation by 2020. In doing so we have the opportunity to deliver a healthier and wealthier nation, 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.
“The ScotlandIS manifesto offers practical proposals for Scotland to embrace digital technologies wholeheartedly, to educate our workforce, business and public sector leaders, wider society and, most importantly, our young people in the benefits digital technologies can deliver. We believe that industry, working with government and policy makers, can make a step change to deliver economic and societal value.”
Over 84,000 people currently work in digital technologies roles across Scotland, generating more than £5 billion in GVA. According to KPMG’s Tech Monitor, the number of tech sector enterprises in Scotland grew 43.4 per cent between 2010 and 2015, second only to London (54.6 per cent).