Digital strategy could lead to tech jobs boost in Scotland

Skyscanner is a Scottish digital tech success story. The number of jobs in the wider sector could rise to 150,000 by 2021. Picture: Contributed
Skyscanner is a Scottish digital tech success story. The number of jobs in the wider sector could rise to 150,000 by 2021. Picture: Contributed
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The digital technology workforce in Scotland could rise to 150,000 by 2021 as ministers place the sector at the centre of the country’s economic future.

Finance Minister Derek Mackay pledged to ensure the whole of the country had superfast broadband within the next five years as he unveiled the Scottish Government’s new digital strategy yesterday.

Mackay was speaking at The Tontine building in Glasgow, now a growth space for tech start-ups. Picture: John Devlin

Mackay was speaking at The Tontine building in Glasgow, now a growth space for tech start-ups. Picture: John Devlin

Digital will be “at the heart of everything” Holyrood does, from reforming public services to delivering economic growth.

But official figures released as part of the report suggest bridging the connectivity gap between urban and rural areas remains a challenge, with the difference in internet speeds steadily widening.

Mackay visited Glasgow yesterday to confirm plans that every premises north of the border would be able to access broadband speeds of at least 30Mbps within four years.

There has been a steady increase in the percentage of premises where next generation broadband access is available, from 41 per cent in 2011 to 88 per cent in 2016.

4G coverage has steadily increased, with 92 per cent of premises having outdoor 4G mobile coverage from at least one national mobile network operator and 58 per cent having outdoor coverage from all four 4G networks.

But rural communities remain worse off. While average broadband speeds have increased in both urban and rural areas over time, but the gap between the areas has widened and stands at 24 Mbits/s in 2016.

The percentage of Scots using the internet for personal use has increased over time, from 63 per cent in 2007 to 82 per cent in 2015 - but use is strongly linked to age and income.

But less than a third of people aged 75 and older used the internet in 2015, compared to 97 per cent of 16-24 year-olds.

The gap in internet usage between the lowest and highest income brackets has decreased from 58 per cent in 2007 to 21 per cent in 2015.

“Digital is transforming the way we live. It is connecting us faster than ever before while putting more power into the hands of service users. There is a huge opportunity here and now to ensure that people, businesses and organisations across Scotland, are given the tools and skills they need to harness this potential.

“Our vision is for Scotland to become even more digitally competitive and attractive. By developing our existing workforce and increasing our digital capabilities across society and the business community, we will ensure that our citizens have the opportunity to improve their digital skills with everyone who wants to get connected able to do so, and public services designed by and for citizens that are secure. This will in turn will have a positive impact on growing our economy.”

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) urged the Government to back up the new strategy with quick action.

Andy Willox, FSB’s Scottish policy convener, said: “A Government strategy document rarely excites small firms. But little is more important to Scotland’s business community than enhancing our country’s digital capabilities. This wide-ranging publication must be matched with political and entrepreneurial drive to swiftly deliver change.

“Scottish Government figures show 75 per cent of Scottish businesses believe digital technology is essential or important to their plans for growth. To achieve these ambitions, firms need access to the right skills and modern digital infrastructure - specifically broadband and mobile coverage. Progress on these fronts cannot come quickly enough.”

The minister was speaking at The Tontine, a landmark Victorian building at Glasgow Cross that was converted last year into a acceleration and growth space for tech start-ups.