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Programme for Government Underlines Digital Commitment

Ross Kelly

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Online voting in Scotland. One Team Gov Scotland

This week’s Programme for Government announcement outlined groundbreaking digital infrastructure investment. Here are some of the key takeaways and reaction to the government’s plans. 

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced the Programme for Government, underlining the Scottish Government’s commitment to investing in green energy, as well as digital infrastructure and small business support.

But the announcement, made on Tuesday 4th September 2018, was met with criticism from the opposition, with the Scottish Liberal Democrats suggesting the government is running out of ideas. However, within Scotland’s digital technology sector the outlook appears positive.

Preparing for Scotland’s Future

In her announcement this week, the First Minister said the Programme for Government “builds on our work to support Scotland’s economy and encourage innovation” – committing to a steady increase to annual infrastructure investment, which will see the government spend £1.5 billion more by the end of 2019-2020 parliament.

Capital investment will increase by an additional 1% of current Scottish GDP. To achieve this, the government said it will need to “continue to innovate in our models for investment and work across the public sector.”

Based on current estimates, this could create an additional £7 billion of infrastructural investment by the end of the next parliament. Key areas of focus include housing, school, hospitals, transport and digital infrastructure.

Superfast Scotland

Investment in digital infrastructure will encompass a broad range of sectors, with this year seeing £600 million worth of contracts granted to deliver superfast broadband to homes and businesses across Scotland. The Scottish Government’s Reaching 100% programme, which aims to provide every Scottish household access to superfast broadband by 2021, is a part of a concerted effort to ensure Scotland’s digital infrastructure meets 21st century standards.

Earlier this year, a report highlighted the potential impact of superfast broadband rollout for the country’s rural communities; creating social and economic benefits worth around £6.2 million for households across Scotland.

The report said: “Our digital infrastructure will create greater opportunities for education, work and leisure as well as enabling economic growth – particularly in rural Scotland.”

The delivery of 4G coverage is also a key focus of digital infrastructure investment. The government noted that work is already underway, with contracts already awarded for the delivery of new masts to boost 4G coverage in remote areas.

Development of a 5G strategy is also an important aspect of infrastructure investment, which the report claimed will enable Scotland to gain a “first-mover advantage” from this emerging technology.

Stuart Mackinnon, external affairs manager for FSB Scotland, said: “The First Minister led with her government’s plans to roll-out universal superfast broadband north of the border.

“While this isn’t the first time we’ve heard about this commitment, that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Expectations on this front are extremely high, especially among rural small businesses.”

Digital Infrastructure and Transport

Digital infrastructure will become increasingly important to the nation’s transport network. To ensure seamless interconnectivity between the two, the government said it intends to invest more than £1 billion in public transport every year, as well as deliver on its programme of investment for all forms of transport.

A concerted shift toward more active travel will take place under new government proposals in an attempt to address environmental and health issues. Low carbon solutions will be a key focus as Scotland pursues the ambition of phasing out diesel cars and vans by the early 2030s.

This year, the government said it will commit to creating at least twenty “electric towns” across Scotland by 2025, as well as adding more than 1,500 new charge points in homes, businesses and communities. Public charge points could become a common feature throughout Scotland’s towns and cities following a commitment to install more than 150 new publicly available points.

Developing green infrastructure is rendered pointless, however, if the population does not commit to change. To encourage Scots to go green, £20 million will be made available to more people and businesses to make the switch to electric vehicles.

Green buses and ultra-low emission vehicles will also play an integral role in developing green infrastructure, with a commitment to add more than 100 green buses through the £1.7 million Green Bus Fund and more than 500 ultra-low vehicles in public sector fleets.

Mobility as a Service (MaaS) will be a key component in developing Scotland’s transport infrastructure, with £2 million in support. This aims to make smart and seamless public and share transport options desirable and encourage Scotland’s population to consider alternative modes of transport.

Development in this area includes the use of smartphones or watches to access personalised travel information, ticketing and payment for transport through a singular portal that incorporates various modes of transport.

The report also said the government aims to “facilitate growth and innovation in this area, building on strengths and skills already in Scotland”.

Technology Scotland CEO, Stephen Taylor, welcomed the announcement of funding for MaaS.

“This fund is vital to help Scotland explore digital and data solutions for people’s changing transport requirements,” he said. “We see great potential in working in partnership with the Scottish Government in securing Scotland’s future as one of the leading locations in the world for Intelligent Mobility.”

Support for Business

Support for Scottish business will be provided by the Scottish National Investment Bank. In the coming year, the government said it will introduce legislation to support the establishment and capitalisation of the bank and, within two years, hopes to be investing in businesses and communities.

This bank will be backed by at least £2 billion in investment over the next ten years and, according to the Scottish Government, will focus on providing long-term patient capital for key economic investments. Additionally, it could provide a single point of access to investment.

Finance and Economy Secretary, Derek Mackay, has launched a consultation to help shape the objectives, purpose and governance of the bank, as well as consider its relationship with ministers and stakeholders.

Speaking at the consultation launch, Mackay said: “The Bank will become a cornerstone in Scotland’s economic architecture supporting businesses across all stages of the business growth lifecycle, through to financing infrastructure to secure private sector investment.

“These steps will ensure we are delivering for the economy of today and ready to seize the opportunities of the future.”

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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