At our meeting in March 2010 it was agreed to put some questions to the Government on the issues that we were interested in to get a sense of where the current state of play is. The questions we asked and the prompt response we received from Minister Jim Mather are posted below. We are grateful to the Minister for his time in answering our questions.
Questions posed by CPG members at March 2010 meeting
- How will Scottish interests be represented on the Broadband Delivery UK Group? – to ensure that Scotland gets its share of any available funding both for 100% roll out of current generation broadband by 2012 and for the 90% commitment for NGA by 2017? Does 90% of population mean that rural areas will miss out? It’s more expensive to roll it out here than eg Wales.
- Does Scotland have a ‘Digital Scotland’ strategy, setting out The Government’s commitments and priorities, which recognises the opportunities of digital technologies in terms of social inclusion, inward investment, improving our competitiveness, a low carbon economy (amongst other benefits)?
- How can we drive demand for and take-up of digital technology services? – can we gain better value out of public sector applications eg GLOW, health applications – might these ‘large pipe’ solutions be extended to encompass business use, home use etc?
- What opportunities are there for people to acquire digital technology skills? Role of Learn Direct, Learning Centres, libraries, schools – do we have enough courses/resource and is it all deployed as well as it might be? UK On-Line doesn’t operate in Scotland – there’s a general shortage of courses.
- How can we get SMEs better to understand the benefits of e-commerce? E-commerce is worth £220bn to the UK economy, yet no apparent strategy in Scotland for this and none of the top 100 on-line companies are based in Scotland. E-commerce is a ‘geographic leveller’ but needs to be understood/promoted/supported by eg. Scottish Enterprise, HIE etc.
- How can we get better public service use of digital technologies to bring eg. Improved access to health services in rural areas, more central and local government services on line?
Minister Jim Mather’s response
The Scottish Government recognises that the use of digital technology will be central to fulfilling Scotland’s potential as a nation in the 21st Century and creating a more successful country with opportunities for all of our people to flourish.
To give specific information on the six points raised:
1 – Broadband
The Digital Britain Report (published in June 2009) was the previous UK Government’s strategic vision for ensuring that the UK is at the leading edge of the global digital economy. The key telecoms aspects of Digital Britain of importance to the Scottish Government (SG) have been the UK Government’s intention to implement a Universal Service Commitment (USC) for broadband at a speed of 2 Mbps by 2012; and the Next Generation Fund, to pay for roll out of next generation broadband access (NGA) to 90% of the population by 2017 – to be financed through the implementation of a levy of 50p per month on fixed lines (landlines) from October 2010. The latter commitment was shelved last month prior to the dissolution of the UK Parliament prior to the General Election, and the new UK Government’s policy on NGA and how the USC will be delivered is currently unclear.
The SG’s role remains one of influencing the UK Government to secure the best possible results for Scotland arising from Digital Britain. For example, to ensure that the aspiration of 90% NGA coverage for the UK should mean no less than 90% for Scotland – though we shall press for 100% coverage, particularly in rural areas. To this end, engagement with Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) – the steering group responsible for the delivery of the Digital Britain commitments – is already underway at official level; and we have responded to three relevant UK Government consultations. SG officials met with BDUK earlier this month to share our considerable knowledge and experience in delivering broadband projects and to discuss possible pilot locations for delivery of the USC.
Additionally, the SG has established a small stakeholder group, which includes representatives from the enterprise agencies and main business organisations, to ensure that a wider range of Scottish views is articulated at UK level, and that we are well placed to produce a robust Scottish position statement for the new UK Government. The first meeting of this group took place on 10 May and was chaired by the Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism. Accordingly, whilst we await the UK Government’s new position on NGA, we still believe discussion on NGA is valuable as BDUK will also be responsible for delivering any future UK Government NGA policies.
For our part, the SG is developing the evidence base on which to base any future broadband policy of our own – which will be from an economic perspective. We will commission a piece of research on business use of broadband this month, and hope this will identify current constraints and indicate possible future demand requirements.
2 – Strategy
Work has taken place to analyse the effectiveness of Scotland’s previous national ‘Digital Inclusion in Partnership’ strategy – published under the previous administration in 2007 – via a survey of stakeholders’ views. Ministers are considering these findings alongside a range of other factors as they continue to look at the best way forward for Scotland in relation to this area and discussions are actively being taken forward.
3 – Extending Public Networks
The Scottish Government is actively looking at the issue of public use of public sector IT assets in Scotland as part of wider work being undertaken to consider ICT infrastructure. This will touch upon the broader issue of using public infrastructure, capacity and assets, and may also consider the implications of procurement law and regulation.
However we are clear that demand in this area can only driven by user need – meaning that services need to be matched to user requirements, easily accessible, easy to use and deliver clear value to users.
4 – Skills
In relation to developments in Scotland’s schools, we understand that Marie Dougan from Learning and Teaching Scotland is attending the Cross Party Group’s meeting and will outline these areas.
On lifelong learning, the SG is committed to continuing to improve adult learning provision nationally so that everybody has the opportunity to learn new skills which can enrich their lives.
Currently, free broadband internet access is available to the public through Scotland’s libraries which offer a range of ICT tutoring and learning programmes such as internet, e-mail and word-processing taster sessions. There are also localised collaborations between delivery partners such as further education colleges, libraries, the third sector and community and adult learning groups operating across the country which offer a range of support in this area
Scotland has the Branded Learning Centre (BLC) network – under the direction of Learndirect Scotland which has now become part of Skills Development Scotland (SDS). This is made up of over 500 quality-assured, client-focused learning centres throughout Scotland from a diverse range of providers, including colleges, libraries, community based, private training providers, trade unions, community schools, local authorities and corporate organisations. Learning centres offer a number of learning opportunities both accredited and non-accredited in various subjects covering personal development, employability, professional development, ICT, sector specific and personal interest. Each learning centre will offer a wide variety of learning opportunities specific to their specialism and client groups.
SDS provides learning centres and individuals with access to a range of IT related online learning opportunities. These include e-learning tasters which provide an introduction to IT basics and can be followed by other introductory and specialist modules. The national learning opportunities database (NLOD) enables individuals to identify IT related courses at all levels available across Scotland from a large number of learning providers.
The ILA Scotland scheme supports many individuals in accessing IT-related courses each year via the network of course providers – i.e further education, higher education, community and private – all over Scotland.
Most further education colleges offer basic/introductory IT short courses through to more advanced courses. Local authority community learning and development services also frequently offer introductory digital technology skills courses. Local projects, such as Digital Fife, help community organisations use digital technology to strengthen their work.
5 – E-Commerce
The SG recognises that small businesses are the lifeblood of local town centres and communities and make a vital contribution to sustained economic growth in Scotland. That’s why a fundamental aim of government is to improve the business creation and growth of small businesses in Scotland.
The Business Gateway (BG) is a national organisation providing an effective business advice and support service to Scotland’s potential start-up, early stage and established businesses across all sectors, including those involved in e-commerce. Within this universal service, priority and focused resources are available to those firms that offer the highest potential return in terms of growth and hence contribute most to the local and national economy, while recognising the need for flexibility during the economic downturn.
Scottish Enterprise (SE) and BG have activities in place to promote e-commerce and provide advice to business on its use. SE launched two new programmes in April, the Strategic Workshop Programme and the Business IT Review programme, both of which include advice and support for e-commerce. Part of the Business IT Review will look at how well business utilise existing ICT as well as assessing any future needs.
The SG and SE are currently leading a project to further develop the Business Gateway website as the primary access point for advice and online services to all Scottish businesses.
6 – Public Services
Digital technology can play a crucial role in the delivery of public services. That’s why the SG is promoting measures such as:
• The national Telecare programme which uses technology to enable people to stay independently and safely at home instead of staying in inappropriate care settings or blocking NHS beds. This includes devices that can monitor whether a person has fallen or not moved for a long time. We are investing a further £4 million in Telecare in 2010/11 – bringing the total investment to £20 million since 2006. (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Releases/2010/03/26162948)
• The national Telehealth initiative which focuses on applying technology solutions in an NHS environment/medical context. Led by the Scottish Centre for Telehealth under the management of NHS 24, a broad programme of pilot activity and exploration has been undertaken across Scotland since 2006. (http://www.sct.scot.nhs.uk/)
• Providing funding of £175,000 for the pilot of a new secure website allowing patients to access and update elements of their own health records online in NHS Ayrshire and Arran. (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Releases/2010/04/07100547)
• Supporting Customer First – the programme which aims to deliver improved public services by re-designing them around customers needs to ensure they are more convenient and responsive. (http://www.improvementservice.org.uk/customer-first/)
• The development of a Scotland-wide portal providing people with a single, memorable and convenient online point of access for public services and public service information. This will allow citizens to find what they are looking for in one place, without having to understand organisational boundaries or be familiar with the myriad of public sector websites already in existence.
We will continue to take forward schemes to make the best use of advances in digital technology to help ensure that public sector services in Scotland are high quality, continually improving, efficient and responsive to local people’s needs.