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by Sofia Villegas
26 January 2024
Scottish Government accused of ‘complacency’ over skills gap in tech sector

The Scottish Parliament chamber | Alamy

Scottish Government accused of ‘complacency’ over skills gap in tech sector

Opposition MSPs have criticised the government for failing to listen to concerns about a skills gap in Scotland’s technology sector.

Labour and Tory failed to pass amendments yesterday as MSPs debated the motion Scotland as a Technology Nation at Holyrood.

Labour MSP Daniel Johnson and Tory MSP Brian Whittle criticised innovation minister Richard Lochhead, who put forward the debate, for failing to gauge the shortfalls in education which “underpin” and are “at the heart” of the tech industry. 

Tory MSP Liam Kerr said the “utter failure” of the minister to mention education showed “complacency on an industrial scale”. 

Both oppositions parties focused on the need to tackle the skills gap, the decreasing number of computing science teachers and the lack of funding, to ensure Scotland is not “left behind” as a tech nation. 

Whittle labelled the funding cuts to agencies like the Scottish Funding Council, which suffered a £100m blow to their budget in the Scottish budget 2024/25, as one of root causes for the decreasing uptake in tech career. 

Later, his Labour counterpart also described the motion as “deficient” for failing to mention artificial intelligence (AI).

Johnson then placed the Scottish tech ecosystem review - made by chief entrepreneur Mark Logan and commissioned by former finance secretary Kate Forbes in 2020 - in the spotlight. 

He emphasised there was still “a lot to be done” in terms of both education and "capitalisation and investment". 

An issue which SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson partly agreed on later as he said the money allocated to tech scale-ups was not enough, and he was “not the only one in the SNP” who believed so.

Johnson called for a “penetration of technology right through the economy”, highlighting how SMEs could double their output “from around £200m to £400m” if they could use technology. An assertion he backed up with recent research from the Open University which revealed that 79 per cent of SMEs didn't use technology because they lacked the financial, time or knowledge to implement it. 

A claim that led him to state “it was somewhat dismaying” that the cabinet secretary for the well-being economy and other secretaries were absent in the debate.

Labour MSP Richard Leonard also called for an “alternative economic strategy” or otherwise technology “would perpetuate biases and deepen the inequalities of wealth and power”. He also demanded that Amazon, which has asked MSPs to discuss its “research and development record” to also talk about its “corporation tax, trading union, zero hours contract and poverty pay” record. 

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