Cross Party Group in the Scottish Parliament on Digital Participation
Note of Meeting 21 September 2010, 1800 – 2000 Room Q1.03
Convener Willie Coffey MSP opened by thanking Microsoft for their kind support and the speakers for agreeing to address the meeting.
He mentioned contact that he had from the Association of Directors of Education who had written to Minister Mike Russell to express their concerns about the future of GLOW against public spending reductions. Although no indications have been given at any level that GLOW is to be targeted for spending cuts, WC also wrote to the Minister expressing support in the most positive terms for GLOW.
WC has also written to Martha Lane Fox, UK Champion for Digital Inclusion and invited her to come to the Scottish Parliament to seek collaborative opportunities. He expressed thanks to Claire Mack for developing and populating the website and urged members to visit and make comment on the information there. (https://dpcrosspartygroup.wordpress.com)
The first speaker for the evening was Brian Kerr of the Joint Improvement Team. His subject was Telehealth Care and has been working on a five year project looking into the delivery of health and social care to people in their own homes via telephone, mobile phone and internet technologies. These technologies also allowed for the delivery of information back to healthcare professionals creating a less stressful and more practical form of healthcare delivery. Digital Participation is vital to getting Telehealth Care rolled out to the Scottish population. A pilot project on the Isle of Bute managing health conditions such as COPD, diabetes and epilepsy has seen hospital admissions reduce by as much as 75%. The technology is enabling people to maintain a high quality of life, safely, in their own home. Ten years ago Telehealth Care was community alarm systems, smoke detectors and CO2 detectors. Scotland’s growing ageing population means that caring at current levels would require us to recruit every school leaver in Scotland into health and social care.
The Telehealth Care programme is a 5 year £16 million project that has delivered a number of outcomes including saving 65 000 hospital bed days and 346 000 care home bed days up to March 2010.
Access and skills are key to the future health of the nation. These facilitate independence and new location based services mean people who in the past would have been institutionalised can now stay in their home environment. Remembering that the highest incidence of poor health is apparent in the lowest income groups in society we need to make a decision about whether we choose now to ensure their inclusion.
WC thanked BK for his fascinating presentation and invited questions from members. A member asked about reluctance and disengagement with the technology due to users’ unfamiliarity or age. BK replied that he had a great interest in reports such as Ofcom’s CMR and was always monitoring research in this area. His view was that if you don’t talk to people about ‘technology’ but about what it can do for them, acceptance is greater. In the Bute pilot the approach was vital; those who were hesitant and did try it responded very well. Another member asked if the investment translated into cost savings. BK pointed to the evaluation report on the ITC website which quotes a saving of £40 million. This is not necessarily a pure saving as saving a ‘bed day’ is that and still means that the bed was there and a healthcare professional was on duty. BK was asked if the programme was to continue after the 5 years to which he replied that there should be no need for ‘pump priming’ following the success in local areas. What was required now was for NHS Board CEs and General Managers to be on board and commit to moving budgets from acute care to community based services. In response to another question BK said that virtual consultation has been extensively and successfully trialled in the Highlands and Islands and in Edinburgh, however there was some clinical reservation about the perceived sacred contract of face to face personal contact.
WC thanked Brian Kerr for his presentation and moved on to introduce Vicki Nairn, Head of E Government for The Highland Council.
E Government at The Highland Council is about delivering efficient and effective services in remote and rural areas, providing a platform for shared services. The high expectations of citizens in a 24/7 society creates challenges in Highland because of limited broadband connectivity. Modern citizen-centric services focus on having correct information about your ‘customers’ or citizens and regarding citizens as customers. A number of local authority functions service the same customers. Today service delivery is about giving people what they want in the appropriate timescale and for elected members the ability to access and track progress issues.
Highland represents 33% of Scotland and 11% of Great Britain – it has a low population which is growing and ageing as well as being dispersed. There are a lot of second home owners and there is a dependence on the public sector for employment. One of the key challenges is to provide equality of service across the Highlands for example Skye and Inverness should get the same level of access to public services.
The remote location can actually act as an enabler in that the drive to pilot and rollout services and provides opportunity. An example is Telehealth Care where the Highland and Islands have achieved success. Other notable case studies from the region include a partnership with Fujitsu for ICT delivery for 5 years, with a contract valued at £66 million which also have the benefits of efficiency savings, carbon management advantages and associated economic development. One of the consequences of working with Fujitsu has been the location and expansion of their Northern Offices in Inverness. By undertaking better usage of video conferencing the Council has saved around £53 000 and 45 tonnes of CO2 over 2 years. The Council is actively working to develop shared services with partners and to explore the principle of community hubs for co location of public services.
The floor was opened to members’ questions. A comment suggested that perhaps in this current climate of cutbacks people might be more willing to see remaining spending on the visible rather than virtual. VN suggested that a remote location and its challenges tend to make people more open to new ways of doing things. Local Parliamentarians have also been very supportive of trying to lobby the relevant bodies for investment in broadband roll out. A member commented that making the Pathfinder connectivity open access would be a huge boost for connectivity in the area. He stated that the Royal Society of Edinburgh thinks that Government could procure an active tenancy to enable this which would add community benefit to the list of advantages. VN said care needed to be applied over specifying community benefits as a result of the initial procurement process and State Aid regulations, however it is possible under the revised procurement regulations. WC thanked Vicki Nairn and introduced Vicki Nash, Director of Ofcom Scotland.
VN presented some headline data from Ofcom’s Communications Market Report for Scotland, an annual research report looking at the take up and use of communications services in Scotland. Field work consisted of 1468 interviews across the whole of Scotland. TV and Radio remain the key communications activities for people in Scotland. The key statistics in the last few years has been the low level of home broadband take up, mainly in the Glasgow area. This year’s figures showed little improvement and Glasgow’s take up remains at 53% compared to an average of 61% for Scotland and 71% for the UK as a whole. Year on year take up of broadband is showing a levelling off in Scotland compared to the other nations and there is also evidence of people giving up their landlines in favour of becoming ‘mobile only’ households. Data suggests that people in Scotland are less likely to use Government, banking and health websites. In Scotland we see a less pronounced gap however between rural and urban broadband take up with both sitting around the average of 60%. Rolling out technology is not all that is required, people need to be taking it up. The questions surrounding lack of take up were a key issue at the launch of the research on 15 September and it was hoped that given the level of MSP representation at the launch meeting that there may be some purchase on this.
WC thanked Vicki Nash for her presentation and commented that he continued to be intrigued by these statistics. He would like to see a ‘drill down’ into the Glasgow area as well that defined as ‘Other Scotland’. (see Follow Up Actions)
A member asked if there was any understanding of the reasons for broadband take up levelling off throughout Scotland. VN responded that the reasons for exclusion were not clear and were evidently varied. Another member commented that the ‘Glasgow issue’ requires to be addressed urgently as well as the fact that Scotland represents the highest proportion of people ‘involuntarily excluded’ (for reasons of cost or availability) than elsewhere in the UK. The lack of infrastructure information is a barrier to better understanding of how to tackle availability.
Another member commented that research amongst those not online suggests that finding the ‘killer application’ or identifying the need is key to bringing people online. We must question whether there is something different in terms of social need in the Glasgow area, perhaps a less dispersed population. The situation in Glasgow will only be worsened should the trend for discarding landline connections continues. The group were interested in the provisions of ‘social tariffs’ for broadband which may alleviate some of the cost barriers in populations of low income. (see Follow Up Actions)
In response to the earlier point on infrastructure maps a member said that there was a resistance amongst industry to throw time, money and energy into producing these as it was not clear how useful they would be. Industry would require to be persuaded of the value.
With regard to ‘not spot’ mobile areas, Ofcom have said they will look further at the technologies and issues. One member said that any thoughts on future provision should leapfrog 2G and look at 3 and 4G rollout. These are likely to be the most useful technologies going forward for areas that require a patchwork approach to get good broadband coverage. Another member commented that there was little mileage in looking at 3G as a replacement for fixed broadband services without significant enhancements to backhaul infrastructure.
There was interest in the more positive picture from Wales and in particular, Northern Ireland. The reasons for this are varied but both nations have dedicated Ministers across digital matters and have committed to Broadband/NGA rollout. It was suggested that representatives from those nations be invited to a future CPG to present.
A member asked if Ofcom was likely to do a deep delve into data around Glasgow to which Vicki Nash replied that there were many agencies with an interest in this area which Ofcom had approached. To date no firm actions had come through from this. There was discussion around the statistics regarding use of Government websites in Scotland and which research audience had been used to derive the figure in the research report. If the whole research audience (including those already known not to have an internet connection at home) was used then it already indicated that, even at best, only 61% of the people questioned could use these websites and therefore the results were not as true a reflection as if you asked only those with and internet connection. (see Follow Up Actions)
Willie Coffey thanked Vicki Nash for her presentation and reminded members of the Special Cross Party Group meeting to be held on 2 November 2010 at the Holyrood Hotel in Edinburgh at 1300. A sandwich lunch will be provided and there will be one guest speaker, Ed Richards, CE of Ofcom.
Members were made aware of the Scottish Government’s discussion on housing issues which the CPG may wish to contribute to following the discussion at the last meeting on ensuring new build property in Scotland is built ‘broadband ready’. WC invited members to email him and he would be delighted to put forward any thoughts or comments to the Scottish Government.
Follow Up Actions
• The ‘Other Scotland’ category – in the context of Ofcom’s CMR report for Scotland includes Border, Highland, Ayrshire and Arran and Dumfries and Galloway
• Social Tariffs for broadband – There is no social tariff for broadband. European and Government legislation states that USO is limited to fixed line voice. However, the “old” (voice) social tariff (light user scheme) did not allow customers to have broadband on a line that benefited from the social tariff. The “new” voice social tariff (BT Basic) does. There are also some broadband tariffs, commercially available, which are quite good value as broadband prices have gone down a lot. (e.g. Plusnet – http://www.plus.net/ – value is £6.49 a month – and customers on BT Basic could now have this).
An interesting addition to this discussion comes from Finland where the Government have mandated a broadband USO and retail price control.
ETNO, the association of incumbent European telecom operators, called on EU Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes to consider what it calls an “unusual situation” in Finland concerning the universal service. Last July, the Finnish authorities introduced a universal service obligation for delivery of broadband access of 1Mbps to each permanent place of residence and businesses, including in remote and not densely populated areas. As this obligation goes beyond the scope of the ‘minimum set of services’ for universal service as per the EU Directive, legislative reform was required. However, no state-funded compensation has been introduced for the undertakings having to bear this obligation, as foreseen by the Universal Service Directive, ETNO said. ETNO is furthermore concerned by a recent announcement that the Ministry of Transport and Communications in Finland intends to impose a retail price cap on the provision of the newly mandated universal service broadband connection. ETNO believes such a decision would not only lead to a distortion of competition in this highly competitive market, but would also prevent operators from making a reasonable return on their investment. ETNO suggests that the universal services obligations should not impose an unfair burden on the industry. ETNO asked the European Commission to ensure that the Universal Service Directive is not implemented in a way which could prove damaging to the market and hamper operators’ capacity to invest.
• Use of Government, Banking and Health websites in Scotland – Ofcom Scotland conducted further analysis of the figures and regardless of the research audience sampling, the use of government, banking and health websites in Scotland is lower than elsewhere in the UK. Please see table below:
Home Broadband Take Up – UK – 71%, Scotland – 61%, NI – 70%, England – 73%, Wales – 64%
Use council websites – UK – 26%, 13% – Scotland, NI – 16%, England – 29%, Wales – 18%
Those with home BB who use council websites – UK – 37%, Scotland – 21%, NI – 44%, England – 40%, Wales – 28%
Use banking websites – UK – 43%, Scotland – 29%, NI – 36%, England – 45%, Wales – 36%
Those with home BB who use banking websites – UK – 61%, Scotland – 48%, NI – 51%, England – 62%, Wales – 56%
Use health websites – UK – 27% Scotland- 14% England – 17% NI – 29% Wales – 19%
Those with home BB who use health websites – UK – 38%, Scotland – 23%, NI – 24%, England – 40%, Wales – 30%