Scots electronics body loses independence in quest to attract funding

SCOTLAND'S sole electronics trade body has been forced to shed its independence by hooking up with a more emergent technology organisation as it bids to bring a fresh commercial edge to a shrinking sector.

Electronics Scotland has merged with Scottish Optoelectronics to become the Scottish Technology Network (STN) in a switch designed to make it more attractive to key government and private funds.

A steering council formed from existing respective managements will hold its first board meeting this month where a chief executive will be selected. A new Scottish Sensors Network will also operate within the umbrella organisation.

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STN's formation reflects funds being increasingly diverted away from the more traditional manufacturing processes to newer technologies.

STN aims to be a premier focal point for the latest in tech design and associated manufacturing processes covering areas like informatics, nanotechnology, optical and electrochemical activity. The body also aims to enable members to network with a wider variety of technology research and markets across sectors from oil and gas to healthcare and defence.

Gerry Watt, chief executive of Electronics Scotland, said a "shift in emphasis" in government thinking, from technology specific activity to business opportunity, lay behind the decision to merge.

Chris Gracie, chief executive of Scottish Optoelectronics, said STN will provide a vital link between industry and academia where identified market needs can be matched more to emergent technologies.

Raymond O'Hare, the former Scottish chief of Microsoft and now a business strategist, said: "It means the sector no longer has a fully fledged representative to fight its corner at government and other high levels of influence.

"However, linking up with a more modern tech sector is a smart move and does give it a better chance to attract key funds for its members."

Electronics Scotland was formed a decade ago, to represent a cross-section of companies mostly located in the central belt trying to pick up the pieces of a declining Silicon Glen. Up until the early to mid 1990s, the "Glen" employed a robust 70,000-strong workforce, but that figure significantly reduced to fewer than 57,000 within a few years.

A series of high-profile, mostly American and Japanese, inward investors moved their semiconductor, or microchip, manufacturing "screwdriver" plants out of Scotland to low-cost eastern European locations. Two years ago Sergio Tansini, the chairman of Electronics Scotland, issued a warning that high labour and energy costs and funding difficulties posed commercial threats to its membership.