Issue 6

SCOTLAND'S DIGITAL CONNECTIVITY

By Colin Cook, Deputy Director Digital Strategy and Programmes, Scottish Government

In last month’s Scottish Policy Now, John Morrison used his personal experiences of remote working, the recent report into digital inclusion by the Carnegie Trust and his appreciation of the opportunities offered by Glasgow’s Smart City programme, to argue that connectivity offered the key to health, wealth and our standard of living.  He went on to argue that these benefits should flow to all the people of Scotland, regardless of income or geography and that therefore the provision of world class connectivity should be a top political priority in Scotland.

Whilst the political priority accorded to connectivity is a matter for others, I want to take this opportunity, as the Civil Servant charged with the development and delivery of Scotland’s digital strategy, to pick up on John’s analysis and to describe the steps we are taking to deliver the kind of world class connectivity he calls for.

The starting point is a £280 million investment in a fibre network that will provide access to next generation broadband to 85% of premises in Scotland.  Designed and delivered in partnership with Scottish Local Authorities, this will begin to address the digital divide by ensuring next generation access for at least 75% of premises in every local authority area.   The programme consists of two distinct but inter-related contracts.  The first, covering the Highlands and Islands was signed in March 2013 and will see deployment of 400 km of sub-sea cables and 800 km of fibre across some of the most challenging landscapes in Europe.  The second, covering the rest of Scotland will soon be signed.

The starting point is a £280 million investment in a fibre network that will provide access to next generation broadband to 85% of premises in Scotland.

Both contracts are underpinned by a commitment to deliver noticeable improvements in speeds for those areas where next generation access are not practicable at the present time and the work of Community Broadband Scotland, an initiative that will provide support and guidance for remote and rural communities that wish to take community action to develop connectivity solutions that address distinctive local needs and priorities. Along with the roll out plans of commercial operators and the opportunities that John described in our Cities, these actions will create a far reaching fibre network that can provide a future proofed backbone for a world class mixed economy of fixed, mobile, wireless and satellite technologies.

However, whilst these investments are critical, we recognise that they are only part of the story.  World class connectivity does not, in itself, guarantee that Scotland or indeed any other country, will secure the benefits of the digital age. A world class digital nation is one which enjoys a high level and quality of digital participation amongst all sections of its population, where businesses put digital technologies at the heart of their business models and where public services are delivered through user centred digital channels. 

Scottish Government’s Digital Strategy is designed to address every aspect of this vision. It sets out actions to enhance digital connectivity, extend digital public services, enable digital participation and stimulate the digital economy. It also commits the Government to reporting regularly on the progress that is being made. Just as importantly perhaps, it recognises that the digital world in new ideas and opportunities are emerging all the time, that we need to develop and implement our digital strategy in an iterative way that responds to the world around us. 

This commitment is reflected in the way in which the Scottish Government is approaching the development and delivery of its digital policy.  A few months ago, Scotland’s enterprise and development agencies came together to produce a series of recommendations to support the transition to a world class digital economy.

digital technology has, or will, rewrite the rules in different sectors of the economy, including many sectors that would not, in any way regard themselves as digital.

Backed by an additional investment of £7 million from Scottish Government, their report sets out a commitment to work together to provide an integrated range of support and advice for Scotland’s 340,000 businesses.  It recognises that digital technology has, or will, rewrite the rules in different sectors of the economy, including many sectors that would not, in any way regard themselves as digital.  It goes on to describe a commitment, on behalf of all our agencies to work together to offer an integrated programme of support to businesses of all sizes ranging from support to acquire basic levels of digital literacy, through tailored support packages around digital marketing and e commerce to the use of sophisticated approaches to technology forecasting and skills by high potential companies.

A partnership approach also lies at the centre of our efforts to tackle digital exclusion and ensure that digital channels serve to break down, rather than reinforce existing inequalities in areas such as health, education and cultural access. The Digital Participation Charter is designed to act as a rallying point for organisations in all sectors of the economy that recognise either the business or the social case for growing participation and are willing to join in a national effort to secure change.  It requires signatories to ensure that their own staff have at least a basic level of digital literacy by 2015 and to help, where they can, through advice, mentoring and other forms of support for projects that seek to tackle digital exclusion in particular age, social or geographical groups.

Finally, the Scottish Government and its agencies recognise that the digital world will demand change.  Be that through the adoption of agile techniques for the development of digital public services, a commitment to knowledge exchange and continuing professional development to ensure that business advisors are able to offer up to date advice to companies, or there is a commitment to look internally as well as externally as we seek to ensure that Scotland becomes a world class digital nation.

A truly world class digital Scotland is a highly ambitious agenda, but the prize, as John Morrison identified so eloquently last month, is an enormous one.  The Scottish Government has set out the policy framwork for achieving this goal, but delivery will depend upon new ways of working, new partnerships and new forms of engagement with expertise both at home and abroad.

Colin Cook is one of a number of speakers participating in 'Public Sector Digital Scotland: Combining web, social media and service delivery for better public access and joined-up services' a conferecne taking place in Edinburgh on Tuesday 3rd september 2013.

By Colin Cook, Deputy Director Digital Strategy and Programmes, Scottish Government

Issue 6

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