INTERVIEW / KATE FORBES Born to be digital

When you are as old as the Web it affords a certain perspective on technology’s impact


The arrival into the world of Scotland’s Minister for Public Finance and the Digital Economy came at momentous moment in the era of the information age. In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, the

inventor of the World Wide Web, published his seminal paper Information management: A proposal. Two years later, he pub- lished the world’s first website. Sandwiched between these two events was the birth, on 6 April 1990, of Kate Elizabeth Forbes. “People have only ever pointed out that I was born at the start of the tax year,” she says laughing. Did she think that not having

grown up in an analogue world was an advantage in her role? “Well, I would suggest that I grew up as the internet was growing up. I recall, in my early teens, the huge frustrations with dial-up when you were trying to get on MSN

Messenger. Facebook launched just before I went to university. Spotify came along when I was at university. So, in a sense you don’t question; you just adopt.” When Forbes was appointed

in June, the announcement was notable for being the first time that the word digital had ap- peared in a ministerial title. For more than a decade, members of Scotland’s digital technologies sector had bemoaned the absence of a ‘digital champion’ within government or, at least, with the ear of government. In the man- ner that Martha Lane Fox, the founder of, who was influential in bringing the operations of the UK Government into the digital age. Te moment for such a standard

bearer in Scotland has passed, now that the iPhone has been in the world for as long. Still, from the outset Forbes made a point of meeting key organisations, companies, and people. Not just in the tech sector, but also in sectors where technology is increasingly important. She has been omni- present at events and conferences. “It’s been a priority for me,

“Our job is to make sure we have the environment where invention, creation, and development happens”

being visible as a government,” she said. “We are doing a lot of exciting things within govern- ment, such as CivTech (see panel), which I think we need to tell more people about. But, importantly, we are understanding what the digital technologies sector needs and how government can best support it. “Tere is a lot of ambition and a lot of confidence; it’s a vibrant sec-


tor. We have the leaders, we have the aspirations. But there’s also a realism in acknowledging the chal- lenges that we need to overcome to be at the forefront of digital. It’s not about cities competing with cities, or Scotland competing with England – it’s about Scotland competing on a global stage. Te number one challenge is around skills, recruitment and retention. “Our strengths lie in areas such

as data, fintech, digital health and social care. Where government can add value is to try and create an environment that people want to invest in, where there’s more international investment, that people want to move to Scotland to live and work in the tech sector. Where there is need for collabo- ration, say for example between academia and business, and pub- lic sector that we support that.”

Forbes cited the recent an-

nouncement of £1.5m Scottish Government funding to support the establishment of the UNICEF Data for Children Hub in Scotland in partnership with the interna- tional charity, Te Data Lab and Edinburgh University. It will de- velop “data-driven collaborative solutions” to improve children’s wellbeing. “UNICEF is locating here because they recognise the talent that exists here and the work that is ongoing around data,” she said. Earlier this year, Forbes also

announced the launch of a £6m Internet of Tings (IoT) network that will “enable companies to in- novate, providing low-cost access to next-generation connectivity, helping organisations develop new solutions and devices with global export potential.”

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