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GOVTECH Continued from Page 7


achievement which has benefited businesses and communities right across Scotland. I also want to highlight CivTech which has continued through the crisis to prove how well businesses can work with the public sector to achieve innovative solutions and I commend its work in helping to build the Scottish Tech Army.”


As for other future digital developments, Forbes has been closely involved with Te Data Lab – Scotland’s innovation cen- tre for data and artificial intelli- gence (AI) – on a national strategy for AI, which is also likely to be published early in 2021. She said: “Scotland is well placed


to harness the potential of data and innovation and the strategy will maximise the potential economic, social and environmental benefits of AI. We’ve consulted on propos- als, conducted a public engage- ment programme and run working groups, and that has all informed the development of the strategy and kept it grounded in a distinc- tive Scottish approach that places people at its centre. We’ll continue to engage an alliance of organisa- tions and citizens to deliver our aims and we look forward to pub- lishing the AI strategy next spring.” Gillian Docherty, CEO of Te


Data Lab, commented: “It’s been really exciting over the last few years to work across some amaz- ing projects in the public sector and more recently supporting the government in the development of the AI strategy for Scotland, which really is all about putting our citizens at the heart. When other countries look at how we are building this strategy, we are ahead in terms of the breadth of engagement to make sure our strategy is what we want it to be.” She added: “We’ve also been re-


ally encouraged over the last nine months, and hugely impressed, by how our public sector organisa- tions have worked together, lever- aging data and new techniques to handle lots of the challenges when it comes to Covid, particularly the data and intelligence network that has been formed, and supporting Te Data Lab.” l


joined-up tech agenda Council body given place at top table in effort to boost collaboration


finance secretary] at the time as it gave us the opportunity to mirror what the Scottish Government had. Tey had a digital lead in government and that gave me the opportunity with my brief to put the local government political leadership in there.”


BY KEVIN O’SULLIVAN


One of the major developments of the plans to update the national digital strategy has been the involvement of local government. Scotland’s 32 councils have


been represented at the top table by COSLA – the umbrella group for local authorities – as part of a more joined-up ap- proach between central and local government. It is part of an effort to


share more resources and to avoid costly duplication when it comes to IT standards and services. Councillor Gail Macgregor, COSLA resources spokesperson, whose portfo- lio covers finance, digital and employers, credited the arrival of Kate Forbes, who is now the finance secretary, as Scotland’s first digital minister, for rais- ing the profile of tech across government. She said: “Te digital strategy


has been in place since 2017, so it’s three years down the line now. I think what we didn’t have was what I would call po- litical leadership on the digital agenda. We had a lot of officers doing a lot of work behind the scenes, but we didn’t have that political drive. “I think an opportunity arose


when Kate Forbes was given that digital brief within her portfolio by Derek Mackay [then


8 | FUTURESCOT | WINTER 2020/21


Councillor Gail Macgregor, COSLA resources spokesperson, welcomed the political drive


Macgregor, a Conservative councillor on Dumfries and Galloway Council, added: “I think it would be fair to say without speaking out of turn that digital agendas within councils – whilst they should have been a very high prior- ity and I think Covid has really shown us just how important digital strategies and digital investments are – for the last five or ten years through budget cuts, the back room stuff was always cut. “So, when councillors were


sitting making really hard decisions about education and social care and having to cut things out of councils’ budgets, a million pounds on digital tech, or digital infrastructure, or for


Central and local government unite to push


officers in those departments to bring forward projects, it prob- ably wasn’t a priority. “I think digital got a wee bit


lost and it shouldn’t because it’s incredibly important. When Kate was put into that particu- lar role it gave us an opportuni- ty to sit down and really discuss what a digital strategy should look like.” Macgregor said in that respect


digital had been one of the more “successful collaborations”, because there is “no negative side” to the discussions, which inevitably have a political as well as a policy dimension.


She is supportive of a common IT platforms approach, and said the work done by the COSLA chief digital officer, Douglas Shirlaw, on building the my- jobsscotland website – which she said was “world class” – is an example of where local government can build tech plat- forms that are useful to central government, and across the NHS, as much as the reverse. She added: “Tere’s a real


appetite to work collaboratively on this to get the absolute best bang for our buck, if you like. It’s been quite an exciting agenda and Ben Macpherson [minister for public finance and migration] has picked it up in his portfolio now and he’s been very enthusiastic as well. Covid has just enhanced the need for good digital; over the past seven months none of us could have survived without good digital infrastructure. “So it’s how we now build on


that, to not lose that excite- ment and traction. So if there’s one positive that’s come out of Covid, it’s that it’s actually put the digital agenda right up to the top.” l


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