Public Services

Scotland's second strategy sets its sights on smart skills

Published 24 March 2017

Hot on the heels of the UK Government Transformation Strategy, Scotland has set out its own technology ambitions to tackle a digital skills gap and open up non-personal data

By James Wilken Smith

Scotland's new digital strategy follows on from Scotland's Digital Future, published 2011, and comes shortly after the UK government's strategy. It seeks to have Scotland realise its digital potential in as "inclusive" and "outward-looking" a manner as possible. Given the events of the past couple of weeks, it doesn't take too much squinting to see the political subtext there.

A key promise is to tackle the digital skills deficit, with a "Digital Growth Fund" amongst other things; other reports have suggested this could include a package of £36m in loans for increased productivity training. The Scottish Government will work with private sector organisations on digital literacy in the workforce and more widely. Moreover, it commits to opening up non-personal government data to spur innovation and find new insights that can be used to improve government services.

This is yet another example of the increasing importance which government is placing on data science. There are policies to tackle the lack of diversity in the digital economy, including mandatory unconscious bias training for central government agencies.

The report also reports progress on the promises made in 2011. The most important is the commitment to deliver superfast broadband to every residence in Scotland, which is currently on track to reach its target - though many of the remaining residences are in hard-to-reach rural areas. Perhaps the report's weakest section is on digital exclusion and societal issues around digital transformation. The report accepts that technological progress and automation can cause problems for societies as they adapt, but offers few solutions. Given the number of middle-skilled Scottish jobs vulnerable to automation, and a relative lack of high-growth industries, we think this is an omission that Holyrood can ill afford.

Finally, a Digital Health and Social Care Strategy is promised later this year, which may shed light on how more lofty and unclear promises translate into concrete policy actions. Scotland's digital future will also depend on its political future, and the uncertainty that will be generated by a new independence referendum (or an actual "Yes" vote) would be significant as well as consuming the government's efforts. However, regardless of the independence debate, the Scottish government will try to chart its own path in the digital sphere and therefore remains worth watching.


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