The Infrastructure Commission for Scotland (ICS) has presented the Scottish Government with a 30-year infrastructure strategy with an emphasis on delivering an inclusive, net zero carbon economy.
The first publication of its kind in Scotland, the strategy follows a period of extensive engagement with key stakeholders and organisations from across Scotland and beyond.
The report states that the Government must “provide the leadership required to ensure the delivery of a full fibre network for Scotland by 2027 to enable the transition to 5G across the whole of Scotland.”
A key challenge for Scotland is not only creating the right environment to deliver its current digital commitments, but also ensuring that what is put in place is sufficiently future proofed.
The report states: “Full fibre connections will provide fast and reliable broadband, 5G will lead to improved connectivity and speed for remote access and is an enabler for Internet of Things applications. Providing full 5G coverage across all of Scotland underpinned by full fibre is both a big and long-term infrastructure project and may take five to 10 years to deliver.
“Thus, ensuring that new networks have sufficient inherent flexibility to keep pace with new and emerging developments will be challenging. In addition, the network and systems will be installed by the digital service providers on a commercial basis.
“Consequently, this will need strong and consistent leadership by Government and regulators to ensure competition and address market failure if its ambitions are to be delivered as the market will look for clarity and certainty in order to underpin its long-term investment decisions.”
A further challenge is how best to unlock the value of the already substantial amount of both public and private digital information held in Scotland, the report notes.
The ability to handle, interrogate and analyse this data in a more efficient and effective way could provide a solid foundation for taking informed evidenced based policy decisions to meet Scotland’s net-zero carbon and inclusive economic growth commitments.
“There needs to be a fundamental change in thinking to view data as an asset, not an output as tends to be the case currently,” the report states.
“However, there are a number of complex barriers that make the sharing and utilisation of this valuable resource difficult. For example, at a very practical level, the development of data standards would not only ensure consistent data quality but would facilitate better data sharing – currently many national data assets are held in self-contained “silos”, which cannot interact with each other.
“Also, public and private data is not currently shared. While there are many obvious barriers to this, such as ethical considerations, better utilisation of this resource could bring significant benefits.
“However, finding ways round these tricky issues to enable the vast range data resources held across Scotland to be used more effectively is likely to bring huge benefits to the country as a whole.
“As a presumption, however we should always seek to make data sets public where possible to encourage transparency, academic research, service design and entrepreneurial use.”
Consequently, the ICS believes a national digital infrastructure is an essential requirement for a modern, economically sustainable country.
“While much good work has already been done in achieving this aim, there is still much to do and developing a broader digital infrastructure provides an opportunity for Scotland to position itself differently in Europe and re-engineer how it delivers public services,” the report adds.
“With regard to Scotland’s current limited connectivity with the rest of the world, there is a good argument that this should be improved significantly – a Scottish data centre industry with access to international subsea cables has the potential not only to provide an enhanced level of service for Scotland’s domestic, business and public sector data needs, but also service international markets too.
“Moreover, this will help to strengthen Scotland’s connectivity resilience, increase our data handling speeds and reduce our reliance on our data being supported in data centres operated in other countries. However, given that data centres are high consumers of energy, care will be needed to ensure that any data centre developments do not compromise Scotland’s net zero carbon targets – innovative and creative solutions will be required to directly couple renewable energy to data centre developments.”
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Nevertheless, the ICS feels it also provides an exciting opportunity for Scotland to place itself in the vanguard of green data centres. The bottom line, however, is that this will require leadership and policy commitment from the Scottish Government to the data centre market along with potential investment in international subsea cables where there is market failure.
The report has set out eight overarching themes and 23 specific recommendations for Scottish Government to consider. The themes are:
1. Future infrastructure decisions to be based on delivery of an inclusive net zero
2. Increased emphasis on “place-based” infrastructure
3. Maximise, broaden the use of and better maintain existing assets
4. Accelerate the decarbonisation of heat and transport
5. Develop appropriately devolved regulatory and pricing frameworks
6. Escalate and expand access to digital and technology services
7. Improve and extend public engagement to shape decision making
8. Explore options for long-term and independent infrastructure advice
The global focus on climate change, together with Scottish Government’s own ambitious Net Zero Carbon target by 2045, have profoundly influenced the work of the ICS in the development of this 30-year strategy.
Ian Russell, chair of the ICS, said: “While infrastructure investment remains a vital factor in supporting the economy and acting as an enabler to deliver effective public services, future infrastructure decisions should be based on their ability to clearly demonstrate their contribution to an inclusive, net zero carbon economy.
“We do not underestimate the nature and scale of the challenges facing future infrastructure decisions and recognise difficult decisions will need to be made. This will require bold and determined leadership from the Scottish Government.
“However, this is not just a challenge for the public sector. Critically it is a call to everyone who plans, builds, invests in, owns, operates, regulates and, as importantly, uses Scotland’s
“If we can all embrace and build on the recommendations set out in this Report, we can go a long way to turning an infrastructure vision for an inclusive, net zero carbon economy into a reality.”
Cabinet Secretary for infrastructure Michael Matheson said: “I’d like to thank the Commission for submitting its report, following a twelve month process.
“This advice will help shape how we plan to invest in Scotland’s infrastructure, recognising the long-term objectives of this Government to deliver an inclusive and net zero emissions economy.
“The value of investing in infrastructure goes beyond the physical homes, schools and hospitals we see in everyday life. If done well, it has the capacity to unlock economic potential, support jobs, and enable our businesses and communities to strengthen and grow.
“We will now take the time necessary to carefully consider the report before updating Parliament on how we plan to incorporate the recommendations into Scottish Government policy and the next Infrastructure Investment Plan.”
The full ICS report can be found here.