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by Sofia Villegas
15 May 2024
Gap in cross-government communication may hinder Scottish space sector potential, House of Lords committee hears

SaxaVord Spaceport is in Unst, Shetland | UKSA

Gap in cross-government communication may hinder Scottish space sector potential, House of Lords committee hears

Scottish space sector stakeholders have called for better communication between the UK and the Scottish governments to ensure the industry keeps growing.  

Lack of expertise, funding and international legislation were highlighted as some of the biggest challenges for the industry during the last session of the Scottish Affairs Committee inquiry into Scotland’s space sector

Scott McClelland, head of the new market clusters unit for the Scottish Government, said: “It is fair to say our engagement with our UK Government department for science, innovation and technology counterpart hasn’t been as strong. We’ve tended to be more strongly linked with our UKSA [UK Space Agency] colleagues, but we certainly welcome greater engagement going forward.” 

Meanwhile, Colin Macleod, head of space regulation at the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), highlighted how the significant “range of expertise” is delaying the granting of space licenses. 

Macleod said firms should look into having good project management skills and legislation expertise so they can “build the right framework that matches technical developments with regulatory and other requirements”.

He added: “I have seen chief executives come to me with a license application and tell me they haven’t read any of the guidance yet, which is particularly disappointing because they are the ones who have to sign it.

“We want to do far more to support the newer companies because the earlier they come to us, the higher the chance their mission succeeds within the timescales they have got, which is normally related to their income stream from their investors.” 

Macleod also highlighted how “regulatory shopping” is becoming a “global problem”, when asked on UK space companies going elsewhere for a quicker licensing process.

He said: “It is far more complex than saying they’re going to Germany. Most countries have different regulatory approaches and most countries around the world have no space laws whatsoever. Germany hasn’t got space law."

He pointed out that there might be a need for a “global agreement on how to license satellites” to ensure all countries have considerations around things such as “orbit sustainability or national security”. 

Further discussing the CAA’s role as a regulator, Macleod emphasised the need for it to stay independent from those who want economic growth, saying this is “one of the red lines in terms of protecting the public”. 

Meanwhile, despite stakeholders recent warning that the space sector lacks political leadership, parliamentary undersecretary of state Lord Donald Cameron confirmed that there would be no ministerial appointment to cover the sector. 

Cameron added: “Responsibility is dispersed because of its very nature. 

“The UK Government is trying to do activity across the different departments that are involved. It’s very difficult to compartmentalise into one minister and one portfolio. 

“Perhaps there could be better mapping of the governmental system, but ultimately I think it is very difficult to pin it down.” 

Discussing the skills gap, Paul Bate, chief executive of UKSA, indicated that the idea that you must be “PhD qualified” to have a career within the sector must be broken down. 

He highlighted the need for early engagement, calling for space programmes to be embedded into school curriculums and for teachers to be skilled up so they can teach the STEM curriculum through space.  

Bate continued: “We are crying out for radiofrequency engineers, system engineers, software engineers, as well as finance people, HR and design people. 

“49,000 people employed in the space is not a bad start but there is so much more that we can do.“

Cameron also said that the divergence between the tax system in Scotland and the rest of the UK will hinder the recruitment and retention of workforce north of the border. 

The last Scottish Budget included a change in the rate of income tax. The new measure included the introduction of a new advanced tax rate for those earning more than £75,000, with anyone on more than £28,867 in Scotland now paying more than those with the same earnings elsewhere in the UK.

Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross asked witnesses on the potential threat posed by the space global market shifting away from smaller cube satellites. 

This could become a significant concern given it is a niche area of the Scottish space sector, with Glasgow building more space satellites than anywhere else in Europe.

However, McClelland said it was not something he “necessarily recognised”. 

Finally, discussing whether the Scottish Government would become a customer of the sector, McClelland suggests data collection could be of high interest.

He said: “There are numerous opportunities across agencies such as Sepa and NatureScot as to how to better use satellite data to deliver their services more effectively”.  

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