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18 January 2016
Scotland needs digital tsar to help boost productivity, says industry report

Scotland needs digital tsar to help boost productivity, says industry report

A digital tsar for Scotland should be appointed to offer “leadership, advice and challenge at the most senior levels of government”, according to an industry report.

The appointment of a first ‘chief digital officer’ for Scotland features among a raft of recommendations designed to increase economic productivity.

The report, which has been drawn up by the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI), ScotlandIS, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and BT Scotland, calls for similar posts to be created in all public bodies across the county.

The proportion of households and businesses able to access next generation broadband has more than doubled in the last four years, with 95 per cent of premises across Scotland promised access to fibre broadband by the end of March 2018.

A chief digital officer should therefore be recruited to help drive progress “from infrastructure to economic growth and public service improvements”, the Digital Solutions to the Productivity Puzzle report claims. 

It also calls for the creation of a Scottish Productivity Commission, modelled on work already done in the likes of Australia and New Zealand, to provide independent research and monitor the performance of government as well as other sectors.

Clear targets – to be measured against next year and then in 2020 - should be put in place to help move businesses towards the upper end of the Digital Maturity Index, which ranks firms in six categories according to their digital maturity. Less than one in five (18 per cent) Scottish businesses currently feature in the top three.  

Ross Martin, SCDI chief executive, said poor productivity compared to pre-recession levels has “bedevilled” the Scottish economy, holding back growth and prosperity.

“We recommend the appointment of the first chief digital officer for Scotland to provide leadership, advice and challenge at the most senior levels of government on the frontier of technological progress and similar appointments across the public and private sectors,” added Martin.

“There is a range of positive work in progress on digitalisation and some great examples of businesses using digital technologies to better meet the needs of their customers. However, with economic headwinds strengthening, becoming a digital world leader is essential if Scotland is to transition from a fragile to an agile economy.”

The report also underlines the need for immediate action to recruit, train and upskill teaching staff amid concerns over a “national shortage” of computer science teachers. Digital should be given a central role in teacher training and continuous professsional development courses for every teacher, it adds.

The Scottish Government is also urged to develop a long-term framework which “allays public concerns” about data sharing and encourages an “open, joined-up and industry-friendly approach” by public bodies within Scotland.

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