Business minister Ivan McKee

is overseeing the delivery of the Connecting Scotland programme

Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review – produced last year by former Skyscanner chief operating officer Mark Logan – underscores how central digital has become to the government’s agenda. Also, since Kate Forbes joined

the Scottish government as a junior minister, digital has steadily crept up the agenda to the point where it has become central to national policy delivery. Forbes, still a relative newcomer,

now holds the vastly bigger port- folio of finance and the economy and has the top seat alongside Nicola Sturgeon in cabinet. She has retained a responsibility for digital in her portfolio and appeared at the tech investor conference EIE on 10 June.

The recently revamped national digital strategy, and last Septem- ber’s programme for government also illustrates the enabling aspects of digital to “national performance framework” policy goals. Logan himself has taken charge

of the implementation of his re- view, published in August last year, which is being backed by £7m of government funding. He is leading a five-strong pro-

gramme executive – working with senior civil servants – to turn the recommendations in his 89-page report into “concrete” proposals and also sits on the programme’s advisory board. Logan stressed to Futurescot that

the executive has not been set up as a “talks about talks” committee but very much an “action-oriented” group that will move quickly and get things done. Te advisory group comprises a

use them, it will have significant benefits in economic growth and ensuing public services work for us all. “Tis is why Connecting Scot-

land is important. It has delivered funding aimed at helping more people access the internet, include those who were at high risk from Covid-19, care home residents, dis- advantaged families with children and young people leaving care.” Te new 5G innovation centre in

Dundee and affirmation of support for all 34 recommendations in the

number of public sector bodies but crucially will feature a “significant representation” of start-up and scale-up founders and interna- tional expertise towards building a successful tech economy that the review set out to achieve. It includes Lesley Eccles, the

founder of FanDuel, Roan Lavery, co-founder of online accounting firm FreeAgent, Sarah Ronald, founder of Nile HQ service design agency and Stephen Ingledew, exec- utive chair of FinTech Scotland. In terms of how the programme

will be delivered, Logan revealed that the recommendations have been divided into ten workstreams

Logan insists what’s been

submitted so far has ‘significant industry support’ and is not ‘earth shattering’ in terms of it being something that hasn’t been called for previously

including education and skills, investment and the tech scalers initiative – a nationwide network of five scalers in different parts of Scotland by 2022, with the aim of supporting around 300 start-ups over the next five years. Tat latter piece of work, trailed before May’s elections, is in the process of being tendered out, and international bidders are being encouraged to apply. Logan has previously stated

that he is a fan of the Silicon Val- ley “playbook”, which provides “world-class education” to found- ers. Another tangible outcome will be the establishment of an “ecosys- tem fund” that will help strengthen the “market square” concept out- lined in the review, which points to a need to create opportunities for founders, technologists and en- trepreneurs to make the necessary business connections: whether that be through regular meet-ups, conferences and – in a Covid world – virtual events.

The operating model for the fund is likely to be based on public-private partnership. One of the criticisms Logan outlined of the investor mar- ket in Scotland is its lack of scale- up capital to help tech companies grow to a significant size. Whilst he credits the invest-

ment community at being good at start-up and early stage financial support, the review focuses on the need to solve that problem as well as a “pretty awful” under-represen- tation of minority ethnic groups and women in terms of where investment flows. Solving the issues in education

has also been a major concern for Logan. “Computing science is in a relative crisis in Scotland,” he says. “We have declining teacher num-

bers and declining pupil numbers and recognising that that becomes a strategic crisis for the tech in- dustry, because potentially those schools are feeders for all those start-ups of the future – in terms of engineers and leaders – is of critical importance.” Logan submitted an education

addendum to his initial review and again the approach is based on what he calls a “large series of interventions” to improve the situa- tion on the ground. Te review calls for computing

science to be taught from the first year of secondary school, “with the same focus as maths or physics”, unlike currently where it is an optional subject in year three. Although accepted by govern-

ment, any radical reshaping of education on the ground in Scot- land would likely require primary legislation, and the political buy-in from teachers and union bodies. Despite that, Logan insists what’s

been submitted so far has “signifi- cant industry support” and is not “earth shattering” in terms of it being something that hasn’t been called for previously.

It is worth pointing out also that two of the authors of the educa- tion addendum to the original review are teachers – Toni Scullion and Brendan McCart – who Logan believes are assured that fellow teachers will welcome the recom- mendations. He adds: “From what I can see,

teachers on the frontline of com- puting science are very clear that the subject’s in crisis. And I don’t think anyone wants to work in that environment for very long. So I think we ought to be working with teachers to see how we can make that situation better.” In the longer term there are

other ideas that may help support the tech economy. Making Scot- land’s university campuses more “entrepreneurial” and providing tech workers from overseas better incentives – for example, by helping them find a mortgage as they do in Finland – could pave the way for further academic reform and policy levers to be applied. l


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