Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Digital Participation
Note of Meeting – 9 March 2010
Convener Willie Coffey MSP introduced the speakers for the evening and expressed thanks to Ofcom and Vicki Nash for setting up and handling the secretariat for the Group.
1. Brendan Dick – BT Scotland
Although availability is an important issue we need to understand that infrastructure in no good without people having the skills to use what is there already. The UK enjoys a highly competitive market in terms of pricing and reasonably good take up. Businesses generally use technology well but improvements could be made. Availability is good but speeds are starting to require work although the UK comes out well in relation to European counterparts.
Telecoms prices have fallen – a 54% reduction since 1990 – leaving us with a very competitive retail market. Competition has brought numerous consumer benefits, however margins are being squeezed putting pressure on the ability to invest in infrastructure. However from a city/national economy point of view we need people who can contribute, a competent workforce that can drive the economy. In terms of the economic value of broadband infrastructure, there is no evidence to support state intervention in the rollout of higher broadband speeds. Video on demand, TV and social networking can drive demand for higher bandwidth and these do have value in terms of getting people involved through entertainment and helping to make them comfortable with technology.
60% of new businesses are starting at home. Cloud computing and new applications have value for small businesses. It also requires less investment and kit.
The map in Scotland shows competition through Local Loop Unbundling is predominantly in Edinburgh and Glasgow with some around Aberdeen and probably starting in Inverness. This has been a market led process centering on the main bases of population. Rolling out fibre is very expensive and being driven by the market but we are also seeing some innovation in copper broadband networks to increase speeds. BT’s 21st Century Network project continues to rollout and will cover 75% of the population by spring 2011. There is a need to assess where Scottish SME demand is to provide evidence to back up call for additional infrastructure rollout. To deliver Superfast broadband (up to 40Mb with possibility of up to 100Mb in new builds) will cost £1.5bn to reach 40% of the population. By 2012 the target is to reach 10 million homes and businesses. In Scotland the economic heartland is well served and is as good as Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and London. There is a short term need to ensure that people are using what they have already available to them.
In other areas of the UK rollout differs, the costs of rollout in Scotland are far greater than Wales for example. In Northern Ireland the population enjoy 10Mb download and 2 Mb upload speed. BT and other partners have invested £48 million to upgrade 20 exchanges serving 1.5 million people. Using those costs as a base we can see the high potential costs for Scotland with so many more exchanges. In Cornwall there is a project out to tender just now looking at parallel investment but also coupled with support for SMEs to use and get best value from enhanced broadband technology.
Next steps for Scotland include:
• ensuring that Scotland gets a fair share of the investment for delivery of the 2 MB USC by 2012 and for 90% commitment for NGA by 2017 and is represented on the Broadband Delivery UK Group
• We need to make sure that we are firm about 90% coverage meaning 90% of Scotland and not simply 90% of the UK
• We need to ensure that rural interests are represented
Comments and questions were invited from the floor. These included:
• concern over the market led approach and where this would leave those disadvantaged by location, income and other means
• schools teaching of information literacy in tandem with digital skills and the effects of Scotland using a consumer model of rollout for schools
• the need for refreshed kit in libraries to help them to teach digital skills, digital marketing and social networking for the workforce of the future
• The PriceWaterhouseCoopers report for the UK Champion for Digital Inclusion (http://raceonline2012.org/sites/default/files/resources/pwc_report.pdf) and the fact that Scotland is not assessing the economic value of engaging people with digital technology
• Broadband costs are highest in the areas of Scotland with the slowest speeds
• Devolution means that no one is dealing with this issue on behalf of Scotland – London has 5 Ministries dealing with it. We need Scotland to 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)?
• We need to look at public sector ‘business’ too, not just SME’s. 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?
2. Dr Peter Mowforth – Indez.com
Dr Mowforth introduced himself as a businessman and technologist. His interest is in the field of ecommerce.
Turnover from E-commerce activity last year globally was £226 billion – the same as the Oil and Gas sector. The sector is growing at 36% p.a and the impact is immense. UK based E-commerce operators are doing well at a European level and Scotland could be taking advantage of this marketplace as it is the easiest way to sell and export overseas. There is a public sector silence on how to develop this. Scottish Enterprise does not prioritise this area for development. According to Hitwise/Experion none of the Top 100 FSTE companies reside in Scotland. However, there are a number of success stories displaying huge business growth and delivering employment and skills in this area.
Toolstop (http://www.toolstop.co.uk/?gclid=CN_Uo4HWkqECFRaZ2AodvEeHOQ) located in Glasgow’s East End have taken on 50 new staff and have a 3.5 acre fulfilment depot. They are the largest independent retailer for Bosch goods – globally.
Little Kids Bedrooms (http://www.littlekidsbedrooms.com/?gclid=CIqUkr7WkqECFVVo4wodV3-WMg) are generating 4 figure sums per day via web orders – 40% of their business comes out of the US.
Moray Seafoods (http://www.morayseafoods.co.uk/?gclid=CPShh_PWkqECFVOY2AodsUpMNg) are doing great business with Harrods and out in Dubai.
These are great examples and more needs to be done to promote this and engage Scottish businesses in selling great Scottish products and services.
3. Stewart Nicol – Inverness Chamber of Commerce
We should aim for a Digital Scotland solution that achieves 100% connectivity. Speeds of 2Mb are not enough; 10Mb+ is more realistic. Mobile coverage also needs to keep up with demand for services, nowadays people are factoring connectivity into big decisions such as house purchasing. The public/private co-op model has a lot to offer to enhance or provide services. With reference to Peter Mowforth’s presentation, E-commerce could work very well for businesses in Inverness but only if they can achieve access at good speeds and capacity. The health of the rural economy is largely dependent upon digital connectivity. The efforts of Highlands and Islands Enterprise should be recognised, they are at least trying to set out a roadmap in this area.
4. Kirsten Cooke – Citizens Online
Citizens Online have had a 10 year partnership with BT and have completed over 30 projects engaging a large number of groups within society. CO projects aim to reach those who are not using digital technologies and find ways of engaging them. Projects seek to leave a lasting presence such as training trainers. Completed projects have given over 7000 training hours from taster sessions to accredited learning and qualifications. Recent projects have been focusing on housing associations and their clients. CO has also been involved in sourcing equipment for youth clubs and the development of SNAPI – a special needs interface for disabled users that means 400 PCs can now provide the tailored settings required by individual disabled users. This scheme has been Olympic approved.
Many people are self-excluders. This can be tackled but the way in is different for different people. One issue that arises in the area of public access is that equipment is out of date. Employers are using packages that are yet to be rolled out on public access machines meaning that often you are training people on out of date software, jobseekers struggle to keep their skills up to date in the face of this. There are also a limited number of public training centres in Scotland, unlike England who benefit from the UK Online Centre network. We use libraries for delivery in Scotland but running courses absorbs general public access.
A number of initiatives could support digital inclusion in Scotland:
• Affordable broadband to the home
• Community training venues – possibility of mobile
• Flexible, supported learning
• Affordable software, hardware and technical support
The floor was opened again to questions and comments:
• The £220 billion generated by E-commerce is made up of half by business to business, a quarter by retail and a quarter by public sector procurement. There is a need for some specific sector skills development – 99% of E-commerce sites fail, partly due to lack of skills and understanding of the marketplace. In Scotland there are very few places to learn these skills and therefore benefit financially from this £220 billion marketplace
• 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.
• Many of the statistics used throughout the presentations are UK wide and should not be considered truly reflective when generalised across Scotland
• Projects in East Renfrewshire and the REAL partnership were used as models for the UK Online resource
• Digital issues require steerage and strategy from the Scottish Government
• We need to get information about E-commerce into schools. The new Curriculum for Excellence mentions ‘entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship’ but not E-commerce
The next meeting will be held on Wednesday 9 June at 1800 – members will be sent background information and the agenda in advance via email. Anyone wishing to register should contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0141 229 7403