Meeting date: Thursday, November 3, 2016
Meeting of the Parliament 03 November 2016
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Point of Order, Burial and Cremation Charges, Digital Strategy, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Point of Order
- Burial and Cremation Charges
- Digital Strategy
- Parliamentary Bureau Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motion
- Decision Time
Good afternoon. The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-02281, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on realising Scotland’s full potential in a digital world.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. During general questions prior to First Minister’s questions today, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing, said that he thought that the Conservative Party suffered from “schizophrenia”. I think that that is discourteous under rule 7.3.1 of standing orders, and I also think that it trivialises serious mental health issues. I ask the Presiding Officer whether she would give Mr Ewing the chance to withdraw that comment.
First, I thank the member for advance notice of his point of order. The member and the Parliament will be aware that a similar point of order was raised at First Minister’s questions today. I concur with the Presiding Officer, who was in the chair then, that all members should treat one another with courtesy and respect in the language that they use in the chamber, wherever they are.
I call Fergus Ewing, the cabinet secretary, to speak to and move the motion.14:31
I was immensely honoured to win the politics in business award last week, but I will admit to a twinge of envy at Johann Lamont winning the e-politician of the year award for her erudite and witty engagement on social media. I am struck on a daily basis, even in my own household, by the generational divide that exists in the digital world. It is a space that I and many others in the chamber have learned to inhabit, but we are digital adaptives, whereas children such as my eight-year-old daughter are absolutely digital natives.
It is for our children that we must ensure that Scotland and, indeed, future generations, can realise their full potential in a digital world. We must equip our nation with the skills and attitudes to seize new opportunities and participate in that world. We must acknowledge that digital has fundamentally changed how we live our lives, access information, learn, communicate and do business, and we must seek to develop that.
We must also have the right climate for business, and we must drive economic growth. The digital strategy that was published by the Government in 2011 has served us well, but we must now develop a programme of action on connectivity, the digital economy, skills, participation, security and transforming our public services.
My Cabinet colleague Derek Mackay has overall responsibility for this area, and he will address it and our vision in more detail. First, I make it clear that, if we are to succeed, we must be open to all ideas, knowledge and experience—and indeed we are. Perhaps as proof of that, I am pleased to confirm that the Scottish Government will be accepting both the amendments from the Labour and Conservative parties—although, in so doing, I point out that the reference to “G5” in Labour’s amendment should be to “5G”. I think that “G5” relates—with respect—to something else or somewhere else altogether. Be that as it may, I hope that we will have a constructive debate today, and I am certainly willing to listen to what every member has to say, irrespective of party politics.
We have a strong foundation on which to build. Our investment in the digital Scotland superfast broadband—DSSB—programme is paying off. The total programme investment is £410 million. We are on track to deliver fibre access to at least 95 per cent of premises in Scotland by the end of 2017. I am delighted to announce that an additional 660,000 premises across Scotland now have access to fibre as a result of our programme. Higher than expected uptake of services means that we are reinvesting in the programme to push coverage even further. Moreover, our achievements and progress are being recognised externally. Audit Scotland recently reported that deployment of fibre broadband through DSSB is progressing well and that a higher than anticipated number of premises in Scotland are capable of accessing superfast speeds.
On Monday, I attended the convention of the Highlands and Islands, at which Ofcom highlighted that superfast broadband coverage in Scotland has increased by 14 per cent in the past 12 months, which it presented as the largest increase in the UK. Approximately 2.1 million consumers and small businesses are now able to access superfast services and there have been improvements in both urban and rural areas.
Ofcom’s figures show that mobile service has improved too. Voice calls are now possible from 92 per cent of all premises in Scotland, which is up from 90 per cent in 2015, and 3G coverage has increased from 79 per cent to 86 per cent. Coverage of high-speed data services has increased significantly and 58 per cent of all premises can now receive a 4G signal outdoors.
However, we are not complacent, as we know that there is much more to do. As Ofcom highlighted, there is still considerable disparity in mobile coverage between urban and rural areas. As Audit Scotland noted, it will be challenging, particularly in remote areas, to meet our commitments on broadband coverage. Although the figures and facts depict a positive picture, that does not always translate into the actual experience of people and businesses. I am acutely aware of that disconnect and am determined to address it.
We are purposely ambitious in this area. Our 100 per cent superfast broadband commitment far outstrips the United Kingdom Government’s plans, which are limited to a universal service obligation at just 10 megabits per second. Although we welcome the UK Government’s contribution to help to meet the shared commitment of achieving 95 per cent by 2017, our progress would not have been possible without joint investment from the Scottish block grant. Without that funding, commercial deployment across Scotland would have delivered only 66 per cent fibre broadband coverage, with as little as 21 per cent coverage across the Highlands and no commercial coverage at all in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.
Work is already under way to prepare for delivery of 100 per cent superfast access by 2021. We have published a prior information notice to provide potential suppliers with information on the superfast broadband access commitment as a necessary precursor to commencing procurement early next year. Before then, we will finalise the coverage footprint to be delivered by the digital Scotland superfast broadband programme to complete the commitment to deliver fibre broadband access to at least 95 per cent of premises in Scotland. We will also undertake an open market review and consult formally with telecoms suppliers to determine commercial investment plans.
We are committed to working with industry, especially to improve mobile coverage across Scotland, and we recently published, with the four UK operators, the only mobile action plan in the UK. We are learning lessons from the UK Government’s failed mobile infrastructure project, which delivered only three of its planned 84 masts for Scotland, and we are taking a different approach to deliver the best possible result for Scotland by working with industry to develop a mobile in-fill programme.
We are actively supporting the development of new technologies alongside industry and higher education as part of our world-class programme to extend connectivity to rural areas and establish Scotland as a test bed for innovation. Our work with industry is key. Government and public investment alone cannot, should not and will not deliver the infrastructure that we all wish for. There is a role for, and a responsibility on, private sector providers to support the delivery of our ambitions.
Although the UK Government has primary responsibility for and powers over mobile connectivity—which is a reserved matter—we are, as far as we can, getting on with what we need to do to realise our ambitions. I am greatly encouraged by the willingness of Sharon White, Ofcom’s chief executive, to work with us to find solutions. She has already made a substantial effort to enhance Ofcom’s presence in Scotland, with an office in Edinburgh, and she has visited a number of remote areas of the country to aid her understanding of the key connectivity issues. I found her interest in Scotland and her determination to work with us extremely positive and most welcome.
Of course, the outcome of the European Union referendum has created more unwelcome uncertainty in this area as in all other policy and funding areas, but I will continue to press for clarity on whether Scotland will be able to benefit from the EU’s recently announced WIFI4EU programme, which aims to extend access to free wi-fi in public places, and on what will happen to funding beyond March 2019, whether that is the €120 million associated with the EU’s wi-fi programme or the €941 million of investment that is planned across the 2014 to 2020 EU funding programmes. I will also press for clarity on whether Scots will be able to benefit from the deal on roaming charges that is due to come into effect next year when they travel abroad.
Realising Scotland’s full potential in a digital world is critical to our ambitions to become a fairer, more inclusive and more prosperous economy. Achieving our commitment to deliver superfast broadband to 100 per cent of premises by 2021 is fundamental to that and it will require us all to put our shoulder to the wheel. We are open to ideas and to positive contributions to create a shared vision. It is in all our interests to ensure that Scotland can indeed realise its full potential in a digital world because, as Bill Gates once astutely observed,
“The internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.”
That the Parliament recognises the need for Scotland to have a clear vision to realise its potential in a digital world; acknowledges the importance of digital connectivity to achieving this vision, and that commercial providers have a key role to play alongside the Scottish Government and the public sector in delivering strong broadband and mobile infrastructure, and notes that the Scottish Government will build on the 2011 Digital Strategy, Scotland’s Digital Future, through a programme of action on connectivity, digital economy, skills, participation, security and transforming public services to help realise Scotland's full potential in a digital world.
I call Jamie Greene to speak to and move amendment S5M-02281.2. You have a generous seven minutes, Mr Greene.14:42
Were you expecting more?
I thought that I was getting nine minutes, but it is fine.
You can take nine minutes if you wish; I have some time in hand.
I will try not to—don’t tempt me.
I will begin by explaining that G5 is a brand new handset that a certain mobile operator has just brought out. I think that it came out last week, so it is very topical. I thank Labour for bringing that up.
It is a great pleasure to open the debate as the Conservative spokesman for technology, connectivity and the digital economy, and as a member of the cross-party group on digital participation. I refer members to my entry in the register of interests.
I want to set out my vision on digital Scotland and to demonstrate the importance of universal digital participation to Scotland realising its full potential in a digital world. Here in this chamber, we often debate the subject in terms of connectivity and digital infrastructure and we look at targets and percentages, but when considering digital participation, it is important to look behind the numbers.
Let me expand on that. I am sure that every member receives many letters and emails from constituents who struggle to access high-speed internet; indeed, we sometimes hear from constituents who struggle to access any-speed internet. That is the case not just in rural areas but in our towns and cities. I think that we will hear many examples of that during the debate. My tuppenceworth on the issue relates to someone who lives just a few miles from the Parliament but who cannot access high-speed internet because he lives on the wrong side of the street. Where I live in North Ayrshire, as I mentioned in my maiden speech to Parliament, I still achieve a speed of 1.5 megabits per second, which is a speed of years ago.
It is important to acknowledge what the Royal Society of Edinburgh pointed out in its 2014 report on digital participation. It said that, although investment has been forthcoming and welcome, and numerical targets are all well and good, such targets
“leave the door open for existing inequalities to go unaddressed.”
Those inequalities include a lack of affordable internet, a lack of devices to make use of it and a lack of basic digital skills to use either of those tools. For those on low incomes, for example, buying a tablet or paying a high monthly fee for broadband is not always an option. Therefore, their digital participation is already restricted, regardless of whether broadband is available in their area. If someone lives in a city but has no 4G coverage in their area, their digital participation is restricted. The future digital participation of children who attend a school that does not have a computing teacher is already restricted. Those restrictions create inequality and hold people back from what the great online has to offer—namely, making day-to-day living cheaper, faster and easier.
I will consider one example of that: healthcare, where those inequalities are most prevalent in Scotland. In one community, we might be able to make a general practitioner appointment, see our medical records or order repeat prescriptions online. If we drive a few miles down the road, the story is quite different—it is a phone call, a two-week wait and a piece of paper. However, in a small country such as Belgium, people can use the same identification to access their healthcare as they can to download documents from their town hall.
While other countries are investing in e-health, in Scotland a person’s postcode determines whether they get their prescription by post or email. I have seen how proper digital back offices work in other countries, where substantial investment in digitised records, single logins and user-friendly websites and apps lets the public access public services cheaply, more quickly and more easily.
NHS Education for Scotland’s director of digital transformation, Christopher Wroath, pointed out only last month that health services also face challenges that are, in part, down to the lack of information and communication technology skills in the healthcare systems. In Scotland, three quarters of firms say that digital technologies are essential or important for their plans for growth, but 30 per cent of the Scottish population lacks basic digital skills. It is up to the public and private sectors to use digital innovation not only to connect every citizen to the services that they need but to promote businesses that contribute to our country’s social and environmental wellbeing.
The member makes some interesting and valid points, but does he accept that, for Scotland—and, indeed, countries around the world—there is a huge opportunity to develop new interfaces between the human users of technology and the technology itself and that the real triumph of the computer will be when we no longer know that we are interacting with one?
Wow! Okay—therein lies the answer. That leads nicely into my next point—
Perhaps you could explain what he meant to the chair. I have no idea what it meant.
I shall respond to the Presiding Officer in writing on that intervention.
Stewart Stevenson makes a good point. Networks are not just physical things. We should build networks of people—human networks of digital innovators, entrepreneurs, designers, developers and content creators. I refer, for example, to people working together to solve a problem such as identifying and removing the barriers that women have in reaching leadership roles in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.
What is at stake? According to Deloitte, if Scotland were to become a world leader in digital industries by 2030, it would experience an increase of more than £13 billion in gross domestic product but, if we continue as we are, it may experience an increase of only £4 billion. That is a £9 billion loss to our economy over the next 15 years if we do not take immediate and visionary action.
Something that members may not see often in the Parliament—especially from a Conservative member—is a copy of the Daily Record. This is an edition from 1 January 2000. In it are predictions such as:
“bulky TV sets … will be replaced by ... flat-screen technology ... If we’re chilly? Intelligent central heating systems will”
”people will be able to order and pay for anything they want direct from their mobile phones.”
Not if they cannot get a signal.
If they can get a signal.
Today, those predictions sound amusing to us but, 16 years ago, they were like predictions from “Tomorrow’s World”—like the Sinclair C5 only a bit more useful. Progress has come much faster than we ever anticipated.
My amendment is important for two reasons. First, we must acknowledge the challenges that face us in achieving 100 per cent high-speed broadband in Scotland. Therefore, we should be open minded as to the technology mix that we might need to achieve that last 5 per cent. Some of my colleagues will go into that in more detail. Secondly and more importantly, we must remember that the end result of all that is not simply hitting a target. Our ambition must be to achieve full digital participation in Scotland. Therefore, I appeal to the Scottish Government to be entirely visionary and I look forward to hearing more about its plans in the debate.
We now have a generation of Scots who have had mobile phones since they were five years of age and who face the automation of middle-management jobs, with professional, creative, design and manufacturing services being automated, online or completely virtual. I do not want Scotland to be a country that catches up with the digital economy; I want Scotland to lead it.
I conclude with the final words of the editorial of the newspaper that I spoke of earlier, which was published on the first day of this new millennium. They say:
“The only limits to what mankind can achieve in our next 100 years, let alone the millennium, are the ones in our imagination.”
I move amendment S5M-02281.2, to leave out from “and notes that” to end and insert:
“recognises Audit Scotland’s recent conclusion that reaching 100% of premises with superfast broadband will be challenging; notes that the Scottish Government will build on the 2011 Digital Strategy, Scotland’s Digital Future, through a programme of action on connectivity, digital economy, skills, participation, security and transforming public services to help realise Scotland's full potential in a digital world, and acknowledges that the ultimate ambition of the Scottish Government should be to achieve full digital participation and the benefits that this brings in terms of fairness, economic performance and service provision.”
Thank you, Mr Greene. We are most impressed that you have kept such an old newspaper.
I call Rhoda Grant. You have seven minutes, Ms Grant, and perhaps you will tell us what G5 is.14:50
I do not have a clue what G5 is, but I know what 5G is. I think that there was a typo in our amendment, for which I apologise, but I am sure that that will not stop the chamber supporting it, as it makes a lot of sense.
The debate gives us an opportunity to feed our views and priorities into the refresh of the digital strategy. There is little in the motion that can be disagreed with, but we need not only to have an agreed vision but to be in a position to make it a reality.
As the Audit Scotland report makes clear, the Scottish Government has to do better at providing access to the digital economy in areas where there is market failure or progress is slow. We will continue to hold the Government to account on its performance in that regard and we urge a better and faster response.
Everyone, regardless of where they live and what their income is, should have access to technology to allow them to access work and information. They should also be able to participate in the social interaction that digitisation can bring and which we take for granted to a great extent. [Interruption.] I hate to point out that the Presiding Officer’s phone has gone off.
It is so unkind of you to mention that, as it will be in the Official Report. Well, it happens to the best of us, and I am the best of us.
You are obviously switched on digitally.
Although you might not be part of it, Presiding Officer, we have a digital divide. In affluent urban areas, the market has provided, and continues to provide, the infrastructure that is required. Our cities are quickly becoming digitised in the business sectors and the leafy suburbs, with 4G and now 5G being rolled out, as well as dedicated city services and free wi-fi in public places. However, unfortunately, our rural areas and our deprived inner-city areas are being left behind.
As more and more information, goods and services are digitised, those of us who do not have access will be further disadvantaged. Benefit applications, job searches and the like are all on digital platforms, and people who do not have access have less chance of changing their lot or getting the benefits that they are entitled to. A lack of connectivity means that our farmers are getting up in the wee small hours not to milk the cows but to try to submit their common agricultural policy payment claim while no one else is using the connection. At a time when we face depopulation in our islands and remote areas, digital access has never been more important and required.
Our vision is of a digital economy that breaks down barriers and makes us an inclusive society that leaves no one behind, regardless of where they live. We agree with the Scottish Government that telecommunications companies must play their part. They make huge profits from rolling out infrastructure in lucrative markets, and they must reinvest some of those profits in the areas where markets fail.
There must also be a role for the Government when the market fails. Digital connectivity is a necessity not only for the individual but for service delivery, not least in health and social care services. We need to make sure that what the Government provides is as good as what the market provides and that it can be easily upgraded so that areas do not fall behind again when technology changes.
Technology is changing and we need to make sure that all installations are future proofed. New technologies are being developed. Last week, I learned of li-fi, which can provide solutions in hard-to-reach areas as well as making others even more connected. I find it hard to imagine that every light bulb will act as a digital router.
In deprived urban areas, the infrastructure is as poor as that in rural areas, because the communications companies do not believe that the people who live there will be able to afford to buy their services. However, even if people have the infrastructure on their doorstep, that does not mean that they have access. We must find ways of enabling everyone in our society to access digital technology so that they can access health and social care services and so that they can be introduced to economic opportunities.
Connectivity comes at a cost. People need money to buy a computer and to pay for a broadband connection. When someone is struggling to keep the roof over their head and food on their table, connectivity is not always their top priority. Some time ago, I visited the citizens advice bureau in Wick, which had recognised the problem. It had set up a room with second-hand computers that the CAB had been able to get its hands on, which allowed its clients to access the internet for jobs and benefit searches.
That is helpful, but technology moves on. We all expect to be online all the time, and service provision is built around that level of connectivity. Therefore, those of us who do not have that level of connectivity are left behind.
We are in the middle of a second enlightenment whose future will be digital—from reading a book to having our health monitored. The internet of things, which puts information at our fingertips, is growing. Before we get there, we can know how warm our house is and turn up the heating. The opportunities are limited only by our imaginations, yet knowledge and skills in our digital world are limited.
We need schools to teach digital skills as part of their basic education, from the youngest primary school child to those who are leaving with advanced qualifications. Such skills need to be taught as part of every subject in our colleges and universities and as part of lifelong learning and continuing professional development in the workplace. The speed of change is rapid and we need to make sure that our workforce keeps up to date.
We need complex programming skills, but we also have to understand the technology. The farmer who can tell immediately which of their animals needs their attention from looking not at their fields but at their computer screen tells us that no area or line of work will not need such skills, so we need to make sure that we have them.
Our amendment highlights the fact that we require to make progress urgently and that we need to sweep away the digital divide. We offer the amendment as a positive contribution, but we are also concerned about the speed of our progress. Other small countries are way ahead of us and we must catch up and get ahead. Being more connected would provide work and life opportunities that we can only guess at, while to be left behind would be a catastrophe. We will support the Government to provide a world-leading digital infrastructure, but we will also hold it to account should it fail.
I move amendment S5M-02281.3, to insert after “mobile infrastructure”:
“; recognises that all people in Scotland must have access to affordable high-speed broadband and G5 mobile access and the skills to use them both at home and in the workplace; calls on the Scottish Government to close the digital divide by monitoring levels of access and ensuring that everyone has a level of connectivity that is fit for the 21st century, regardless of their geographical location or income”.14:58
If I learned anything when I did my computer science degree at the University of Strathclyde in the late 1970s, it was that we should not expect anything in digital technology to stay the same for long. I started that course only seven years after the Americans landed on the moon, and the technology to get them there used a tiny fraction of the computing power that we have now, even in our mobile phones.
The point is that there will never be a time when technological developments slow down and we can stand back and admire our achievements. The challenge for us is organising things to embrace the technology of today and to prepare the ground and open the doors for the rapid progression to what lies ahead in the future. What is certain is that we need the digital infrastructure—the superhighway, as we used to call it—and all our population need to be able to access it and to be engaged by the wonders and possibilities of it all. We also need to create the potential for growth and attract the people—principally software developers—who can imagine what that future could look like and start building it. Those are the key drivers behind the European digital single market strategy, which I will talk about in a moment or two.
In the work that the Scottish Government is doing, I see all those elements and the potential to open doors to the future. First, we are engaged in delivering the infrastructure to 100 per cent of our homes and businesses over the next five years, which is a huge task in a country such as Scotland.
Secondly, we are working towards broadening access to digital technologies for all sections of the community. We have to ensure that no one and no section of society is excluded.
Thirdly, we are creating opportunities for our young people to get excited about the fantastic possibilities of a career in software design, which can take them anywhere in the world to work. Good work is being done to get more females into technology, and initiatives such as the CodeClan digital skills academy and coding clubs are perfect for nurturing the new talent that we will need.
None of that is easy and there will be no end point, even if we think that we have made good progress, but such interventions are essential if we are to deliver a better digital world. As the great Alan Turing, the father of computer science, said:
“We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.”
If we embrace that view as we plan our digital future, we will not go far wrong.
Right now in Europe, we are short of about 600,000 ICT personnel, and by 2020 the shortfall could be just under a million. If we are to develop and expand the economy, the success of the digital single market strategy in Europe will be crucial, as it is estimated to be worth more than €400 billion in additional growth.
Cross-border online services account for only 4 per cent of the digital market in Europe, whereas online services within countries’ jurisdictions account for about 42 per cent. That is why the three aims of the digital single market strategy—better access, creating the right environment and creating the potential for growth—are crucial not just for Europe but for Scotland. Under the strategy, we will make e-commerce easier, with no tariff barriers, and we will simplify copyright so that people can buy and develop content across Europe much more easily.
As members might expect, the digital single market will be a key driver for economic growth here in Scotland. It will be interesting to see whether the United Kingdom Government plans to walk away from that when the UK departs from the European Union or whether it wants to be part of such a market, as I think that it must do.
I am the convener of the proposed cross-party group on digital participation. It is clear to all colleagues who attend its meetings that technology can be the greatest tool that we have to help us to deliver social justice. I am grateful to the Carnegie UK Trust for its briefing and for its support in the cross-party group.
Social justice—or inclusion or access—does not happen by default. Indeed, it gets worse by default unless we do something about it. Digital exclusion also gets worse unless we do something about it. It is no surprise that the most excluded groups in society are usually the elderly, the unemployed and people who are living in poverty.
The Scottish Government’s digital participation programme, to which nearly £2 million has been allocated, will help the people who would benefit most from being online—particularly our most vulnerable citizens. The work that is being done with the voluntary sector and housing associations should also help us to peg back the digital divide.
The Scottish Government’s approach to all such matters is correct. It mirrors and enhances what Europe is trying to achieve. The approach is ambitious and forward thinking and should help Scotland to make a step change towards realising our potential in the digital world that we live in.
In that digital world, I have no doubt that we will continue to
“only see a short distance ahead”,
as Alan Turing said. However, as long as we are willing to accept that and the new challenges that we will have to overcome, our digital future will be even more exciting than the digital present that we live in today.15:04
I do not think that a single member of the Scottish Parliament who represents a rural region or constituency did not campaign during the election on a ticket that included sorting out the lack of broadband and mobile connectivity in their area. What we said and what we published in our election literature will no doubt be quoted back to us and waved in our faces at the next election, if we fail.
I therefore welcome the Government’s commitment to deliver superfast broadband by 2021. I believe, however, that it is an ambitious promise that will be a real challenge to deliver. We are happy to work with the Government to achieve it, but should it not deliver or do enough to deliver, we will become the Government’s fiercest critics.
Scotland as a whole has the lowest proportion of premises with access to fibre broadband in the UK, and the Highlands and Islands have the lowest proportion in all of Scotland, with only 79 per cent of premises having access to fibre broadband. In the Highlands, 26 per cent of properties have broadband speeds of less than 10Mbps. Those premises will prove to be the most difficult to deliver superfast broadband to, although those fragile rural areas most need broadband.
As Edward Mountain did, I contributed my own material to the election, and the leaflets addressed broadband. If he is prepared to be critical in helping the Scottish Government, is he also prepared to be critical of the UK Government if we cannot get there, given that telephony is still a reserved matter?
I am sure that Bruce Crawford would like to listen to the rest of my suggested remedies before he asks whether we should remove the plank from other people’s eyes before we have removed the plank from our own.
The 26 per cent of properties that have broadband speed of less than 10Mbps are the ones that it would be most difficult to deliver superfast broadband to. However, those rural areas need it. Allowing those residents to contribute to the economy and enabling their children to use the internet for learning, are not just vital—they are imperative.
Let us be clear: the digital divide in Scotland is massive, and the Highlands are without doubt at the bottom of the league. If the aim is to deliver broadband to the last 5 per cent of households in Scotland, which will not have access to fibre broadband, one has to ask how we can ensure that they get what has been promised to them. At the outset, I support calls for BT—which will be the main supplier in such areas—to outline the exact areas that it will not be able to reach by 2021, so that we can see where the problems are.
We also have to accept that the cost of delivering fibre broadband to those super-remote properties and houses will only increase.
Will Edward Mountain take an intervention?
No. I am afraid that I would like to crack on as I have already taken one.
There is plenty of time, if you wish to take an intervention. It is up to you.
I have heard one or two things from Stewart Stevenson on broadband at committee meetings, so I would like to push on.
You have not heard this.
I am sure that I will hear more.
The other day, we heard that the cost of delivering broadband is currently over £3,000 per house in some cases. As we get to the last 2 per cent—the super-remote houses—the cost of delivering fibre could be well in excess of £50,000 per house, which makes it unjustifiable. Therefore, we must look at other options.
Some areas might benefit from community broadband—an initiative that is being led by Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Most of the projects are based on radio connection and the nearest cable. There are other options, but they are limited by the final connection to the cabinet. We support community broadband and believe that it needs an increase in funding, but we would like the support that community broadband gives to be extended from communities to individuals and businesses. We hope that the Government agrees with us: we will wait to see whether it does when it announces its budget.
We might also be able to consider satellite, although it has huge start-up costs. The Avanti pilot project, which has over 500 connections in Scotland, offers speeds of 30Mbps. However, that project will conclude shortly. If it is to be used as part of the solution, the Government will need to consider increasing the funding. People who have satellite broadband would argue—rightly, to my mind—that they have to pay a higher cost and that, if satellite is going to be part of the final solution, it is unfair that they should bear the cost, which is substantially higher than what is paid by people who live in urban areas. If the Government is going to rely on satellites to deliver its promise, it must be prepared to fund them and to make their running costs equitable with the running costs of urban landlines.
I would like to offer potential solutions for the Government to consider, which could all be addressed. There will be issues in addressing them, but where there is a will, there is a way. Many hydro power schemes are run from central control rooms and use satellite connections. A perfect example is at Dalnessie. There is infrastructure at the top of the River Brora, but there is no connection to the telephone in the house next door to that site. Perhaps the Government would consider working with the hydro operator to see whether there are ways of connecting that infrastructure to the remote houses in the area.
Many people will have seen masts next to bridges on railways lines. The masts, which are owned by Railtrack, usually have fibre cable connections to central controls. It might be possible to connect to those and to use them in remote areas to deliver broadband. Other utilities have fibre connections in remote areas; we might be able to use those, too.
Before I close, I would like to mention telecommunications.
You have 30 seconds to mention them.
I will be quick.
So many parts of the Highlands—the “not spots”—are not covered by mobile communication. Those of us who live in rural areas would like to have 4G. We have no G, and we certainly do not have G5 or whatever it is that Labour is proposing. We would like to see 4G rolled out.
My message to the Government is that its promise is admirable and that we would like to work with it in delivering it. However, it cannot be delivered based on a postcode lottery, with the last 5 per cent—the difficult houses—bearing inequitable cost compared to that which is faced by those in urban areas—
Thank you, Mr Mountain. That is fine; that is good. Please sit down.
Okay. Thank you, Presiding Officer.15:11
As we meet here today, it can be all too easy to take our digitised world for granted. It has been more than 40 years since Arthur C Clarke stated:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
To an average citizen of, say, the 1960s, our digitally connected world of today would have been scarcely imaginable and would have been deemed, if not the stuff of magic, certainly the stuff of science fiction. We are all the inhabitants of Marshall McLuhan’s “global village”. It is difficult to overstate the impact that that has had on our way of life. At no point in the history of our species has it been easier to acquire new knowledge. Goethe may have said that one
“who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth”
but today, via a smartphone, one can access the entirety of human knowledge between hand and eye.
Never has it been easier to trade. From the streets of Mong Kok to the slopes of Montmartre, from Tokyo’s Akihabara to Glasgow’s Barras, not one of those great districts—which are rightly famed for their markets and street trade—can compete in range and reach with the omnipresence of the world wide web and its vast array of shops and traders.
The effects of digitalisation on our civic society, political process, media and even our language—for example, “hashtag ScotParl16”—has been profound. It has, for instance, never been easier for people to contact and interact with their elected representatives and governing bodies. Online platforms have posed challenges for traditional print media and have given opportunities to others. The results have been as complicated and unpredictable as any other aspect of life.
As significant as the impact to date has been, developments and advances in digitalisation of our lives in the coming years and decades are likely to be monumental and will potentially redefine our understanding of what it is to be human. However, before turning to those more speculative matters, I express my support for the Government’s approach to realising Scotland’s full potential in a digital world.
I applaud the ambition to deliver fibre optic broadband to 95 per cent of Scottish premises by the end of next year, and the commitment to deliver it to 100 per cent by the end of this session of Parliament. That commitment will be warmly welcomed by many of my constituents in Renfrewshire South, particularly in Howwood and Lochwinnoch, where too many are unable to enjoy the internet speeds that are available in other parts of my constituency.
Equally welcome are the plans to work with industry on a mobile programme to address gaps in 4G coverage, of which—again—there are several in Renfrewshire South. With mobile connectivity now of such importance in our lives it is vital that coverage be as wide as possible.
The Government’s vision for superfast broadband and 4G will contribute significantly to achieving digital equality. However, digital equality requires more than equality of access. For Scotland to realise its full potential in a digital world, it is vital that digital literacy be enhanced, so I welcome the Government’s recognition of that in its motion, which references skills and participation. The realisation of the Government’s vision for Scotland’s digital future will equip the country with the infrastructure, resources and skills that will allow Scotland to realise its digital potential. However, it is vital that realisation of that potential is informed by the values of equity and equality.
The digital revolution has been an enabler of the emergent gig economy or access economy. Although that represents an important development that allows individuals to monetise their existing assets and skills, it is also another manifestation of the economic instability that is experienced by the contemporary precariat generation. Scotland’s digital future must be inclusive, with the benefits being shared by all and not accrued to the privileged few.
We must also be aware of the role of digitalisation in relation to automation and artificial intelligence. Many professions—from paralegals to truck drivers—will be challenged in the coming decades by the introduction of machines that can perform tasks more efficiently and for less cost. Although the Government cannot be realistically expected to predicate policy on such inchoate technologies, it can take the opportunity to embed values and principles that will ensure that the human cost of the disruptive effects of continued and future digitalisation is minimised and mitigated.
Of similar importance are data security, data regulation and data privacy. It has been said that when something online is free, you are not the customer—you are the product. Regardless of whether or not we are paying, data that are generated from our online activity have a huge number of applications, both positive and negative. As we move into the era of the internet of things, in which even the use of household appliances will produce data that can be captured, it is vital that we are continually vigilant for attempts by corporate interests to undermine citizens’ rights to privacy, and that we ensure that our frameworks and regulations keep pace with technological developments.
It is fair to say that there is broad agreement across the chamber that Scotland must realise and embrace its digital future. A Scotland that realises its digital potential stands to benefit significantly both economically and socially. I commend the Government for bringing the motion to Parliament and I look forward to my Renfrewshire South constituents and communities across Scotland enjoying the benefits of greater connectivity and digitisation.
I remind members that there is a protocol that, once they have spoken in the chamber, they remain for the two following speeches. They should not nip out immediately afterwards. I say that without looking at anybody in particular.15:18
I do not think that I am alone in thinking that human history is the history of technology. From the wheel to the printing press to the silicon chip, technology has shaped the way that we live our lives and what we are able to do. Nowhere else in the world could that be more true than in Scotland. It was our steel, our ships and our railway locomotives that brought about the first wave of globalisation and allowed us to reach places that it had not been possible to reach before. However, we are also aware in this country of the profound impact that technology change can bring. When those self-same technologies became obsolete, the people who worked in those industries found that their labour was no longer efficient enough and they were replaced by workers in other parts of the world.
We have talked a lot in the debate about connectivity, but what are we connecting to? I am sure that I am not alone in the chamber in regarding Stewart Stevenson as something of a visionary, and his comments about seamless interfaces and integrating the human mind are relevant. We have to understand that the changes that technology will bring are profound. Tom Arthur was right to raise the issue of automation, as that will be the next wave of technology, but it will be different. It is thought that as much as 36 per cent of the jobs in this country could be made obsolete by automation. Previous technological leaps have improved productivity, essentially enabling us to do more things as individuals; the difference now is that automation threatens to replace us altogether. We need to talk as much about digital obsolescence as we do about digital exclusion. As we look towards the renewal of the Government’s strategy on technology, it would be extremely remiss if we did not also look at how we deal with automation and how we cope as a workforce.
Let me spell out some of the potential impacts of automation. Tom Arthur mentioned automated vehicles. A truck costs something like £200,000, and we have an ageing workforce in the haulage industry. Therefore, it does not take much of a leap to understand that there is a huge benefit to having trucks that can drive continuously, 24 hours a day. It would greatly increase the return on that investment and improve efficiency. When we realise that 6 per cent of the workforce work in transport and distribution—it might be as much as 10 per cent when we include wholesale industries—we understand the impact that automated vehicles could have. News reports on automated vehicles might use the punchline “Look—no hands”, but the more serious reality is that we might be looking at a situation where it is “Look—no jobs.”
However, this is about more than just the economy of things. Administrative jobs are also under threat from automation. The recent Deloitte report, which was mentioned earlier, highlighted that 88,000 jobs could be lost in our public services—the jobs of people who administer and organise vital services in our society. Lest we think that our analytical capabilities might save us, in healthcare, AI algorithms are already in use: in cancer screening they are identifying cancers more effectively and efficiently than the human eye. They also are identifying drug interactions that no physician can keep in their head. In the legal industry, AI is able to analyse documents for loopholes and is already being used to draft legal documentation.
Although this is a problem that we have to take very seriously, we are starting from a good place. In Edinburgh alone, we have hundreds of high-tech start-up companies, which employ thousands of people. We need to take the steps now to ensure that we can take those thousands of jobs and turn them into hundreds of thousands of jobs. However, we must also acknowledge the issues that we face. For all the warm words and seriousness in how we treat STEM subjects, we need to recognise that, since 2007, we have been losing two STEM teachers a year in Scotland. Likewise, we have seen a drop of 187 computer science teachers. We urgently need to address those issues in our education system.
I welcome the comments about reskilling in the skills framework and last week’s enterprise and skills review document, but we need to ensure that our skills infrastructure is as much about reskilling people in the workforce who have found that their skills are obsolete. We need to help them to renew, refresh and update their skills to make them relevant in the workforce.
We also need to bake technology into our learning. It is not good enough to treat technology as something separate in the curriculum. We need to ensure that pupils in our schools are learning to use technology in English, history and other subjects, because technology is pervasive and part of every single activity that we undertake. Likewise, we need to ensure that we support businesses to tech up. In the economy of tomorrow, every single business needs to be a technology business. The focus should be as much on the ability of whisky producers to use big data to produce the perfect dram as on software and technology companies.
This is a big change, and we have to stop treating it as a novelty. When we faced unemployment of 12.5 per cent in the 1980s, we viewed that as tragic, and we need to take very seriously indeed the possibility that we face that 36 per cent of the workforce will be made obsolete. It is happening now and it is happening fast. Willie Coffey was absolutely right to highlight the pace of change in technology. We have to recognise that, with automation, we face the complete removal of people from the entire chain in the economy, from design to manufacture to the supply of the goods that we use every day. I would like the Government to take automation that seriously as it reviews its strategy.15:24
We have already heard some quite interesting quotes to set up the debate and frame the arguments. In his opening remarks, Mr Ewing quoted Bill Gates, who said:
“The internet is becoming the town square for the global village”.
That is no doubt a global village in which the Prime Minister will be appalled to learn that we are all citizens of the world. I see more opportunity in that than threat, but we need to recognise the profound change that is coming upon us, as other members have mentioned.
Willie Coffey mentioned Alan Turing, who said:
“We can only see a short distance ahead”.
Let us remember that Alan Turing wrote about thinking machines more than 70 years ago.
Jamie Greene was right to say that technology is moving very fast in the area, but I question whether we are really talking about events that were unimaginable a generation ago. E M Forster’s science fiction story “The Machine Stops” prefigured ideas such as the internet and instant messaging more than 100 years ago. We can see some of the consequences of automation that Mr Johnson talked about taken to an extraordinary extreme in the imagination of our own late and much-lamented Iain M Banks.
Human beings have always been far better at imagining and inventing such technological changes than controlling how we use them and how the consequences impact on our lives. We will keep on imagining and reimagining in the area. It is not just about the middle-management jobs that have been mentioned. Who knows? Even legislators might one day be replaced by AI or software that is as close to AI as makes no practical difference.
The internet of things, which Mr Arthur mentioned—it is, of course, also known as the internet of things that people can hack—will also have profound positive and negative consequences for all of us.
Part of my problem with how we have debated the issue so far is not to do with what is in the motion or the amendments. I will very happily support all of them, and I welcome a lot of the work that the Government has done in the area. However, there are questions that we have not yet begun to grapple with.
On digital participation, for example, what does participation really mean? When we talk about democratic participation, we do not just mean being on the electoral register; we mean having a sense of control and power in the citizenry, and the ability to hold power to account. If we talk about economic participation, we do not just mean having a job or an income; we mean fair work and ensuring that the way that the economic systems work benefits the common good. Digital participation does not just mean having a connection or access to some technology or being a passive recipient of software products. It should mean something much richer than that, which involves the digital rights agenda. That was in our amendment, which, sadly, was not selected for debate.
The digital rights agenda is absolutely critical if we want the change to be beneficial. If we want to maximise the social, cultural and economic benefits of the technologies that are being rolled out around the world, we absolutely have to look at digital rights issues.
Let me give a few examples. We have become much more aware of state and corporate surveillance and the collection of data and metadata around the world. The way in which they are being used is already stepping way beyond what most people are aware of. If we want the big data agenda to create benefits for our society and people, we absolutely need transparency and control over how that data is used by state or corporate players.
If we want to address some of the barriers to participation that Mr Greene talked about, we should recognise that that implies net neutrality and saying no to the idea that internet service providers can decide which packets of data will get beneficial or preferential treatment on the internet. If we all want fair access, and access to networks to generate a fair benefit for all of us, net neutrality absolutely has to be a principle.
Although the European Union has taken some steps in that direction, net neutrality is not nearly as strong as it ought to be, and some individual member states have stronger legislative requirements around it than the EU has. Whatever happens with our future participation in the EU—I hope that it continues in Scotland—we absolutely need to go further than Europe has gone on principles of net neutrality.
There are also intellectual property law issues. Few people—other than, perhaps, the Pirate Party—would argue for the abolition of intellectual property law, but the law needs to strike a fair balance between the stimulation of creative goods, the dissemination of creative goods and fair recompense for the people who have undertaken that creation. At the moment, that balance is all out of kilter. The law does not properly promote the dissemination of creative goods; indeed, in very many cases, it restricts it. For those who are trying to get their first foot in the door of the creative industries, whether we are talking about a back-bedroom operation with people coming up with their own software or any other aspect of the creative industries, fair recompense for their work often comes far below the interests of large corporate players that can decide which relatively narrow aspects of intellectual property they can own, buy, sell and milk.
Those are just a few of the examples of the digital rights agenda relating to privacy and open standards. Freedom of speech is another issue, but it would probably take me another six minutes to begin to discuss it.
I again welcome the motion and the amendments, but I would argue that the Scottish Government’s strategy must embrace and develop a digital rights agenda. After all, the internet is not just going to be our town square; it is fast becoming critical to every part of our community, our economy and our personal and interpersonal lives. What matters is not just what happens if the machine stops, as E M Forster wrote, but what happens if the machine stops working in the common good and serving the interests of citizens and starts putting the interests of the Apples, the Googles or, indeed, the state players ahead of citizens’ interests. I hope that the Government’s digital agenda will begin to embrace such wider issues as it develops in future.15:31
The benefits of digital innovation are well documented, and we must aim to ensure that Scotland is a global leader in that area. To do that, we need a clear strategy that ensures that technological innovation benefits communities all across Scotland.
The motion acknowledges the importance of the role of digital connectivity in any such strategy. As a representative of the Highlands and Islands, I appreciate the challenge. I come from an incredible part of the world, with its high mountains and breathtaking coastline. However, although my region’s topography and geography are the reason why it is one of the most beautiful areas in the world, the terrain and population dispersal pose serious challenges in providing the level of digital connectivity that we need across the region. At home, we say that we need that connectivity more than most people—after all, we are already hard to reach physically; we must not be hard to reach virtually.
As a result, the Government’s target of delivering 100 per cent superfast broadband all across Scotland is very welcome. In the period from 2013 to the end of this year, the percentage of premises in the Highlands and Islands with fibre optic broadband will have gone from 4 to 84 per cent. That is to be welcomed. Uptake of fibre broadband in the Scottish Highlands has been so high that a clawback clause has kicked in and the digital Scotland scheme is getting an extra funding boost. The new investment of £2.3 million means that 6,000 more premises will be connected to fibre. Investing in improved coverage and quality will have a huge impact on connectivity and is fantastic news for our region.
Rural communities such as the Highlands and Islands face additional challenges, not just with regard to digital innovation and connectivity. We all know the issues with ageing communities and, as I have said before in the chamber, we in the Highlands and Islands face the issue of the ageing demographic more than most. The delivery of health and social care in rural and remote communities and the restricted employment options are also challenges, but a high-speed and resilient broadband connection will provide the means to overcome such challenges and to transform our communities.
In fact, those very challenges have forced organisations and businesses in the region to innovate and to develop solutions and collaborations that have the potential to lead the world. I will give just one example. NHS Highland has been developing a resilient digital connection through a commercial provider. Omni-Hub is providing a robust connection with Armadale surgery in north-west Sutherland, and I have to tell members: if it works there, it will work anywhere.
Another such digital innovation in the Highlands and Islands is the fit house collaboration between NHS Highland, Albyn Housing, which is a housing association, and Carbon Dynamic, which is an SME that develops modular housing. The collaboration has developed houses that have been co-designed with end users and are embedded with technology that meets the needs of both the person living in the house and NHS Highland. It will enable digital gateways to be placed in homes and data captured from modern devices such as wearable health monitors to be sent to NHS Highland. There will be one system for all, and information will be captured on a safe, secure network. With people’s consent, that will allow health and care agencies to intervene more quickly, if appropriate.
The fit home project is going one step further than most: it is also focusing on preventative interventions, using artificial intelligence and case-based analytics that were originally developed for the oil and gas industry and transposing that knowledge base into the health and care field. The project is using digital interventions to increase face-to-face contact within the home and improve public service delivery. It is developing and commercialising digital systems and, through a social enterprise model, reinvesting profit back into health and care delivery.
NHS Highland is aiming to keep people in their homes longer, enable earlier hospital discharge, lower the number of emergency admissions and bring the latest technology and cutting-edge technical ability into mainstream health delivery. That is what patients want.
Small companies in the Highlands, working with the national health service, are creating a range of other state-of-the-art digital health applications that use smart devices to send and receive health information, enable home investigations and home consultations and provide information and messaging portals for patients with cancer and long-term conditions. Delivering health and care in the community in that way enables jobs to be repositioned back into the community and allows people to remain in or return to more rural communities around Scotland. It creates resilience in those vital areas and job opportunities for the Highlands’ school leavers and graduates.
Collaborations between commerce, the NHS and the third sector are thriving in the Highlands, and unique alliances are solving problems that organisations could not fix on their own. They are also creating innovative digital health and care solutions that can be exported around the world and which might, therefore, feed some much-needed money back into our vital public services.
This Government’s investment in and commitment to superfast broadband are creating the infrastructure to enable technology companies to locate in the Highlands, which is making the Highlands and Islands not only a fantastic place to live but a world-class place to work. Developing superfast broadband connections has the potential to transform Scotland on many levels, and it is already happening.15:38
Page 33 of the SNP’s “A Plan for Scotland: The Government’s Programme for Scotland 2016-17” says:
“Our commitment is to deliver superfast broadband access to at least 95% of premises”
by the end of next year
by the end of this parliamentary session.
“This will transform connectivity, improving the productivity of businesses in remote and rural areas and the prospects of people who live there.”
I will return to that at the end of my contribution, which is why I wanted to start with it. They are grand words that are full of promise, and they were reiterated today by Fergus Ewing. Forgive me, Presiding Officer, for being somewhat sceptical about them.
I could give examples of what many of the people who have contacted me about connectivity have to say about it, but I do not want to involve them in the debate. If you will forgive me, Presiding Officer, I will use my own experiences to give a touch of reality to the debate.
I live in a beautiful part of rural Scotland. It is not so remote, because a trunk road—the A97—runs past my front door. We have a terrible broadband connection, and I and my neighbours were looking forward to being connected to superfast broadband, as advertised—as it says on the tin, as it were—by the Scottish Government.
Eighteen months ago, we were delighted to see that the roadside outside our homes was being dug up, and guess what? Yes, the superfast broadband cable was being laid right outside our homes, along the length of the A97 at Kildrummy in Aberdeenshire. We were happy to put up with the disruption of the road and all that that meant, but you can imagine our disappointment, Presiding Officer, when we were told that, even though the superfast broadband cable was being laid right outside our homes, we were not going to be connected. That was despite having seen adverts all over the place, in all the local villages, telling us that superfast broadband had arrived.
“Why is that?”, one might ask. It cannot be the cost of reaching us in a remote area, as we are not in a remote area. The superfast broadband cable is not being delivered to each home, despite the warm words; it is being delivered to a series of green boxes along the route. My house and those of our neighbours are not connected to a green box, they are connected to the telephone exchange, so even though the superfast cable is going right by us and we are not any distance from it, we are not being connected to it.
That was 18 months ago.
Several members from across the chamber have highlighted their view that because we are in the remote areas, we cannot really be reached effectively, and that what is slowing the programme down is reaching the last 5 per cent, but I am afraid that that is not the case. I have no doubt that the minister, who is listening to my speech, genuinely believes that the roll-out programme is going well and that the statement made in “A Plan for Scotland” is being fulfilled, but the reality is that broadband access is not being delivered to every home, just to every green box in the land.
I repeat my point: superfast broadband is not being delivered to every home or business premises as promised. I would be interested to know from the minister whether my home—and I use my home as an example—is being counted as being connected because the area is connected—
No, it is not.
Well, I would like to hear that from the minister rather than from the back benches.
Are we actually counting the green boxes that are being—
One of my colleagues on the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee keeps saying that from a sedentary position, but I would love to hear it in an intervention from the minister. I would like to hear some reassurance, not just for my benefit but for the benefit of all the people in my local community who have contacted me about the issue, but still the minister is not intervening. I take that as a message.
Will the member take an intervention from me?
I would certainly give way to the minister if he could tell me—
I am sorry to hear that Mr Rumbles has not been connected, and if he gives me the details of the case I would be happy to look into it. Does he not accept that both Audit Scotland and Ofcom, the regulator, have judged and highlighted the fact that although there is more to do, as I said in my opening speech, we are making faster progress in Scotland than is being made elsewhere in the UK? We have also set out clearly our plans for a tender exercise next year in order to achieve our target, which, as he said, is a target that we must achieve in the lifetime of this Parliament?
I am certain that the minister believes all of that in good faith, but I am trying to give him a touch of reality about what is actually happening out there. It was a year and a half ago that the cable was laid. I am being reliably informed by those who are in a position to tell me that, far from improving my already poor broadband service, the likelihood is that the service will actually get worse as those who are connected will adversely affect the signal.
I can hear, “No, no,” being shouted. If the minister really is of the belief that all is well with the programme, and if I go back to my communities in the north of Aberdeenshire and tell them that 95 per cent of premises will be connected by next year and that all premises will be connected by 2021—
That is correct.
If the minister believes that, either he is being duped by the providers of the service or he does not understand the contracts that the Scottish Government has signed.
It is all very well for the minister to boast, as he does in the blurb, that 7,700km of cable have been laid, which is
“enough to stretch from Glasgow to Kathmandu”,
as it says in the Scottish Government document; but, good as it might be for Kathmandu, it is certainly no good for Kildrummy.15:45
Scotland is a small nation that could be a demonstration of digital potential. For that, there needs to be trust, security and convenience. The Government has to empower citizens, charities and small and medium-sized enterprises to allow that potential to be reached through innovation—Patrick Harvie made that point.
In her first speech as UK information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham said:
“It’s not privacy or innovation—it’s privacy and innovation ... Consumer trust is essential to achieving growth.”
I will focus on that.
First, however, I will touch on the wider issue of broadband. Much is said about rural areas missing out on high-speed broadband, but many urban areas do, too, sometimes without any apparent logic, as Mike Rumbles just touched on. My street in East Kilbride gets high-speed broadband but, just down the road on the same estate, I have a constituent who lives in one of two houses in his street that do not have it, although we have the green boxes nearby. That is frustrating enough, but it is even more frustrating that there is no way for him to find out when he will get connected. I urge the Government to act on that specific point, which affects a lot of people. They just need to know when.
I go back to trust. Scotland is missing out on reaching its full digital potential because there has not been enough collaboration between the private, third and public sectors. The general data protection regulation provides individuals with increased control over how their personal data is collected and used online, but more can and should be done to ensure that individuals can take back control of their online identities.
The member has asserted that the problem is that there has not been collaboration between the Scottish Government and operators. The opposite is the truth, since we are the only part of the UK to have an action plan, and the mobile operators have commended us for the approach that we are taking, as opposed to that south of the border, where only three out of the 78 masts that were promised in the mobile infrastructure plan were delivered.
I am not here to have a go at Mr Ewing. I am saying that some work is being done, but it is not enough.
The European data protection supervisor, Giovanni Buttarelli, recently gave his views on personal information management systems. He said:
“Our online lives currently operate in a provider-centric system, where privacy policies tend to serve the interests of the provider or of a third party, rather than the individual. Using the data they collect, advertising networks, social network providers and other corporate actors are able to build increasingly complete individual profiles. This makes it difficult for individuals to exercise their rights or manage their personal data online. A more human-centric approach is needed which empowers individuals to control how their personal data is collected and shared.”
I agree with that. It is human nature to resist snooping and meddling in our lives.
Scotland will face cybersecurity threats now and in the future. Citizens look to the Government—that could be the UK Government or the Scottish Government—for safety and security. They do not look to any Government to spy on them.
Local authorities still ask citizens to fill in paper forms and have made no real progress in enabling citizens to live their lives with dignity, in control and with their choice of digital identity that is privacy friendly. Councils’ attitudes to sharing data do not raise potential digital hopes, as there is no trust.
A report by the Market Research Society puts consumers at the heart of the privacy debate. It highlights that,
“up until now privacy has largely been treated as a political football”,
with too much focus on the legal and technological aspects of holding personal data. It shows that only one in 10 of us feel in complete control over keeping our personal information private. It also reveals that the Government is trusted only marginally more than the supermarkets when it comes to looking after personal information and that banks are more trusted than charities.
Digital participation is starting in some areas but is not yet achieving its full potential. Reports such as “Tackling Poverty in Renfrewshire” recognise that empowering citizens includes digital empowerment. The think local act personal partnership and Citizens Online, which has an innovative project in the Highlands—that will please Maree Todd—are examples of that.
Citizens do not currently have a reason to use the online services that the public sector provides. Public services IT is built for public services organisations and not for citizens. People are excluded, inequality is perpetuated and Scotland does not benefit from advances in technology. The Carnegie UK Trust, which Willie Coffey mentioned in his measured speech, recently reported that Scotland is still not yet reaching its potential in digital services and called for a new focus on tackling digital exclusion.
Scotland will not reach its full potential until the Government trusts others and is trustworthy; that is why the reality is so far behind the digital potential. The Government must recognise that citizens are the nation’s most important asset and empower them so that Scotland can reach its full potential.
I will give the minister one more idea, which is to look at procurement. In procuring IT projects, we should ensure that Scottish firms get the contracts, because far too many do not. We need to empower citizens, provide better information and look at procurement—those are three ideas for Fergus Ewing to take forward.15:52
Digital connectivity will have the biggest impact on rural Scotland, and I speak as the member for a constituency that is in real need of coverage to bring us up to par with our urban neighbours. With enhanced connectivity we could flourish, given the amount of businesses that could be located in rural areas and the start-ups that would have a chance to be on a level playing field with those in an urban environment.
With today’s technology, a graphic designer, a business consultant, a public relations manager or an accountant should be able to work remotely from anywhere and still deliver the same level of service as someone who works from an office in a town or city high street. We should not all have to travel miles from our rural homes into a city to sit at a desk or have to clog up the roads to do a job that can be done just as satisfactorily at the end of a phone and with a decent broadband connection. Scottish Enterprise estimates that 150,000 new businesses need to be created to bring Scotland’s productivity up to an optimum level, and digital connectivity for our rural areas is key to meeting that target.
In the business that I ran before I was elected to Parliament, I could work from home by uploading video files of my work for clients to review and holding Skype meetings with clients in other cities and countries. If I had lived just three miles to the east, in Foveran or Udny Station, I would not have stood a chance, just like one of my constituents who lives just a quarter of a mile outside the village of Fyvie. He called me last week to say that he would have to move as he is struggling to run his graphic design business without access to broadband.
On a basic level, one of the most constraining things about poor access to broadband is the lack of access to everyday services and to the advantages that being online can provide. I would call meeting the need for such access digital justice or digital equality.
A recent example in my constituency brought home to me the way in which internet poverty can impact on a community’s options and success. In New Pitsligo, we had an unfortunate situation where a local bakery that had been established for more than 100 years—John Smith & Sons—was forced to close permanently. My colleague Eilidh Whiteford MP and I worked with the group that was responsible for the bakery and the staff who faced redundancy to help them through the process, try to find them alternative work and enable them to access support.
Many of Smith’s employees had not had to look for work in many years, as they had been long-serving employees, and Smith’s was the biggest employer in the village. I must admit that, when I gave some of the workers practical advice, I did not anticipate how much of an issue their lack of digital connectivity would be.
In May this year, New Pitsligo was not particularly well connected digitally, and most of the people who came to seek support were not online. In addition, New Pitsligo does not have a good mobile signal, so many of them did not even have mobile phones. How does one even attempt to find a job in 2016 without access to the internet? Sites such as Monster.com, s1jobs and LinkedIn, as well as the human resources pages on company websites with the most up-to-date recruitment opportunities, were not available to most of the people who came to us for help, and neither were the online resources that would have allowed them to access the advice and information that they needed to access the jobseekers allowance that they were entitled to until they found new work.
Those people’s employment opportunities were limited because of their internet poverty. That was compounded by the fact that their rural location was serviced by very few buses that could get them to facilities that were better connected and publicly available. Many of those people did not even have an email address.
Rural homes have also been disadvantaged in accessing services such as the distance learning programmes that the Open University offers, setting up in business from home, accessing the savings that are offered by internet shopping, changing energy tariffs online or even accessing news outwith that which is broadcast on traditional media. Many rural residents cannot use internet banking. Is it not amazing that internet banking is not available in the places that need it most—those that do not have a bank?
The biggest unleashing of potential has to come from such rural areas. With the 100 per cent broadband coverage that is promised by 2021, we will directly tackle digital inequality, and we might also dramatically increase Scotland’s productivity.
I will end by picking up on some of the criticisms that Mr Rumbles and Mr Mountain made. I have just read an article in The Daily Telegraph in which the Liberal Democrats’ leader—
Where I read the article does not matter. Tim Farron criticises the regulator for some of the issues that Mr Rumbles described. Mr Farron seems to have a better grasp of the technology and of who is to blame for some of the issues that Mr Rumbles talked about—Mr Rumbles should look at that article. Mr Farron criticises BT Openreach and Ofcom for BT’s continued monopoly and asks for action on that front, rather than from the Government, which is trying to make things better.15:57
I must admit that the importance of the digital world to the smooth operation of daily life is something that I can often take for granted. Being connected to the internet is a vital part of daily life, whether it be for sending work emails, communicating with friends and family or checking social networks. For the range of uses that we put it to, internet use has simply become second nature for many of us. I include myself in the group of MSPs who frequently check our mobile devices in the chamber—it is allowed now, isn’t it, Presiding Officer?—to respond to emails, to carry out a quick fact check or to send that all-important tweet. We all do it.
The digital world exists alongside, and is now interwoven with, our reality, and it provides numerous opportunities for growth and increased productivity. I welcome the motion’s recognition that digital connectivity is vital to Scotland achieving its full potential in the digital world, and its commitment that the Government will build on its 2011 digital strategy.
However, Scotland achieving its full potential in the digital world requires not only the delivery of infrastructure but Scotland’s population being able to access that infrastructure and being equipped with the skills to use it. I therefore welcome Rhoda Grant’s amendment. Even if we are to achieve the goal of 100 per cent access to superfast broadband by 2021, there will still be work to do to ensure that everyone can access the internet, regardless of their income or location.
The biggest risk to not achieving our full potential in a digital world obviously comes from the inequity of provision when it comes to access to the internet and the skills that are required to use it. We know that deprivation hampers the progression of Scots in many ways, from educational attainment to health outcomes, and the link between deprivation and internet use is no different. It has been a persistent problem that contributes to a vicious circle of inequality, and it is one that urgently needs to be addressed if we are to make use of the potential digital talent of all of Scotland’s population.
The 2015 Scottish household survey, which was published in September this year, found that just 60 per cent of households with an income of £15,000 per year or less had access to the internet compared with 98 per cent of households with incomes of more than £40,000. Research by Ipsos MORI, commissioned by the Carnegie UK Trust as others mentioned, that analyses that survey data finds a strong overlap between digital exclusion and commonly cited characteristics of deprivation. We know that people who are older, are on lower incomes or live in more deprived areas are statistically less likely to have digital access than the rest of the population. Closing the digital divide must be a vital component of the Government’s strategy if we are to achieve our full potential in the digital world. That is entirely possible, but only if all relevant partners work together to more closely monitor the levels of internet access and make the necessary interventions and investment to tackle areas that need improvement.
I absolutely agree with Monica Lennon on tackling the digital divide. Will she make any specific suggestions to inform our reshaping of the strategy so that we tackle it? I hope that that question will be taken in the spirit in which it was offered.
I would be more than happy to email the cabinet secretary to make some suggestions.
I will talk about some projects in my area and show how we could continue to support them. The benefits of expanding internet access to people who are without it are numerous. That includes young people in education—we had some in the gallery earlier, but they have gone—and people who are searching for employment.
I recently visited a community development charity in the Central Scotland region that I represent: Community Links (South Lanarkshire), which operates a range of projects that are aimed at tackling poverty. I met volunteers and service users at the supporting employment and learning by empowering communities in technology—SELECT—hub at Hillhouse in Hamilton. SELECT is a digital inclusion project run by volunteers and staff that supports people to use the internet as an employability tool. Local people use the service to increase their digital skills, including the ability to apply for jobs. I found that it is really popular among older people who are aiming to retrain and find it difficult to navigate online-only application systems, such as those that are used by the Department for Work and Pensions for applications for jobseekers allowance.
I declare an interest as a South Lanarkshire councillor. The SELECT hub is jointly funded by South Lanarkshire Council’s tackling poverty fund and the Scottish Government’s people and communities fund. It is a great example of good practice in relation to community-led digital inclusion. The service users that I met were clear about the benefits of the project and the huge difference that it had made to them by giving them free access to the internet and a helping hand that they would not otherwise have had. I hope that projects such as the SELECT hub will continue to attract support from the Government.
Expanding digital access is a vital component of tackling inequality. It will not only help individuals but boost Scotland’s position as a world-class digital nation if more and more people have the digital skills that enable them to get on in life. I welcome the Scottish Government’s motion and its support for Scottish Labour’s amendment.16:03
I suspect that, by the end of my contribution, I may be judged either an iconoclast or a heretic. I am reminded that, on 23 July 1633, Jenny Geddes threw her stool at the minister in St Giles cathedral because of the first use of the Anglican “Book of Common Prayer”. She sought to overturn the prevailing norms and I will do something similar.
None of this digital stuff matters at all. We really should be debating communication and services because those are what we are trying to get to. Digital infrastructure is merely one of a range of ways in which we might support those broader aims.
Let us talk about communication. The Roman empire had a series of hilltop signalling posts that enabled a message to get from Londinium to Roma in a mere six hours. It did not work at night or if there was fog or low cloud, but a lot of the time it meant pretty good—for 2,000 or so years ago—communication from the outposts of the empire to the centre. That was one of the reasons why the Roman empire was so much more successful than the Greek empire, which was still sending messengers around with messages in cleft sticks or, alternatively, sending secret messages by shaving the head of a slave, writing the message on the slave’s head, waiting till their hair grew and then sending them off—it took months.
What we are actually talking about and interested in is communication. Digital communication has been around for a lot longer than we would think. The Scots invented the first fax machine in the 1840s—of course, it was probably analogue, rather than digital, and the technology that we use today is very different. The telegraph, which was the first real digital communication medium, was the key thing that opened up America by enabling communications to be taken to the west coast, which was the making of that big country whose future we will all be watching with interest next week. The first private telegraph line between Edinburgh and London was opened in 1868, when the Bank of Scotland—for which I worked for 30 years—installed a telegraph line between its head office on the Mound and its office in Broad Street in London. The telephone came to the bank a wee bit later, in 1882. Like banks everywhere, the Bank of Scotland was cautious about technology and the board approved the telephone only on the strict understanding that it not be used to conduct business.
Computers, too, have been around for quite a long time. Astrological computers were used in Arabia more than 1,000 years ago.
I am always amazed at how much knowledge the member has, but I hope that we will move beyond faxes at some point and get to broadband. I encourage the member to address the question of how we will get broadband in the remote parts of the Highlands. Could that be weaved into his history?
We can certainly do that, of course. However, I will say, in part, that broadband is not necessarily digital. It is actually digital data that is carried on analogue signals. That is neither here nor there, but it illustrates why, when we talk about digital, we shouldnae get bogged down in all this techy stuff. What we actually want is for people to get access to services and good communications.
I am disappointed that Mike Rumbles is not here to hear me mildly correct one or two things that he said. I will start by addressing his statement that he lives next to a trunk road called the A97. That will be news to people, because there is no trunk road with that name. The A97 is a local road that is the responsibility of the local council. I will correct him on another point. He has been told on umpteen occasions that he is on an exchange-only line. So am I. My exchange is on fibre; I am not. I am counted in the 5 per cent that was mentioned, and so is Mr Rumbles. My brother lives in the centre of Edinburgh. He is on an exchange-only line, so he is in that 5 per cent, too. Different technology will be needed to connect people who are connected differently for reasons of history that go back more than 100 years to when the first telephones were installed in Scotland in the late 1870s—some of that wire is still around.
I take the member’s point that, in essence, we are not dealing with something new and that we are essentially talking about communication. However, the key difference is that we are facing a change in technology that is not just about communication but involves replacing every step that humans currently take as part of the supply chain across a broad range of things. That is new and it is something that we have never faced before and it must be addressed.
I agree with the member. He is absolutely correct. Of course, we have been through a similar change in the mechanical era, when we automated the looms. That had a hugely disruptive effect and we will see the same huge disruption again.
Will the member take an intervention?
Not from that source.
Oh, go on.
You would not take mine. I have corrected your problems.
Please refrain from having conversations with each other. Please speak through the chair.
I will address my remarks to the chair, as I properly should do.
The big challenge involves ensuring that there is equality of access to the services that we can deliver via the internet. At the moment, rural areas are behind the pace. It is important that we get them on pace by 2021 and ensure that they are connected. However, as we develop the services, we are going to have to consider who gets the rewards for work that is productive. A lot of work will be of a social and cultural nature because the production of goods and the engagement in the delivery of services will employ a lower proportion of people as time goes on. That is a fact that we will all have to face, whatever our political views. We are going to have to have a debate about the wider effects of changing the way in which we run the modern world.
We also have to consider carefully—Patrick Harvie touched on the point but did not develop it—homogeneity versus diversity. If we get to a position where there are very few sources of services, a mistake or an error in the implementation of those service deliverers will have much wider effects. The first law of epigenetics says that the more highly optimised an organism is for one environment, the more adversely it is affected by a change in that environment. The bottom line for today’s debate is that we need diversity of supply and delivery. That way we can move forward together and I am sure that we will do so.
I hope that, in his future contributions, Mr Rumbles will take the opportunity to correct the almost totally misleading contribution that he has made today.
Ms Harper, you have the unenviable task of following Mr Stevenson.16:11
Thank you Presiding Officer, but I do not know if I can ever compete with Stewart Stevenson in any of my speeches.
We have heard a lot of examples of digital connectivity and what we can do. I was part of a surgical team in California that developed robotic surgery so that we could do remote access surgery with a surgeon who was not even in the same room as the patient. That was quite an exciting time for me.
This afternoon, however, I want to concentrate on the importance of high-quality digital connectivity for rural communities so that Scotland can realise its full digital potential, and the importance of connectivity for social inclusion, business growth and development, and provision of public services. In a rural region like Dumfries and Galloway, digital connectivity is increasingly important. Indeed, it is vital to a wide range of activities and is the number 1 issue for many constituents to whom I speak.
I have already held two broadband surgeries—one in Stranraer and one in Dumfries—with the assistance of Digital Scotland, which was much appreciated. Common to both surgeries were concerns that constituents brought about the more difficult-to-connect parts of a large and rural area. Many of those constituents still have little or no access to the internet, and several places do not even have access to mobile phone coverage.
It is fair and important to recognise that good progress is being made, with 34,294 premises across Dumfries and Galloway already being connected to fibre broadband and capable of receiving download speeds greater than 24Mbps. At the end of the first quarter of this financial year, 74 per cent of the premises in the region were connected to fibre broadband, which is up from an assumed 26 per cent in 2012. Progress is significant and demonstrable—it is important that we do not lose sight of that. With 26 per cent of the region still to be connected, acknowledgement of good progress should not distract from the significant challenge of rolling out the next generation of broadband and, in some cases, any broadband at all, so that the locations and businesses that are ready to catch up can do so.
Businesses in Galloway are, of course, already capitalising on improved connectivity by expanding their operations and exploiting new opportunities. One of the businesses is Jas P Wilson, a dealer in and manufacturer of forestry machinery, which the Minister for Employability and Training, Jamie Hepburn, visited recently. That company is marketing its products in European countries and is developing markets that will allow it to expand and secure its future as an important local employer.
On the other hand, the excellent visitor attraction, the Galloway activity centre, on the beautiful shores of Loch Ken, has no broadband access and little current prospect of being able to arrange broadband at a reasonable cost. It has investigated every option that is currently available and found that the options are either logistically impossible or will incur costs that the business cannot afford. Like Jas P Wilson, it has the potential and drive to expand what it does and grow as a business. Affordable digital connectivity will make a huge difference to its ability to perform and expand.
Digital connectivity can also have huge benefits for delivery of healthcare. In particular, it can help patients to avoid at least some of the lengthy journeys that they would otherwise have to make to manage long-term health conditions. A good example is the nurse-led diabetes clinic at the Galloway community hospital in Stranraer, where patients can upload data from blood glucose monitors and insulin pumps and have a videoconference with their consultant, rather than make the 150-mile round trip to Dumfries or wait for a consultant appointment in Stranraer. Sound day-to-day management is the key to long-term wellbeing for people with diabetes, so such easy access to regular appointments makes a huge difference to management of a condition that can be personally debilitating and costly to the national health service, if it is poorly managed.
Education can also benefit from progress on digital connectivity. The Dumfries learning town project is looking at ways in which digital connectivity can widen course choice in the senior phase of secondary school. Small numbers of students in more rural secondaries might not otherwise be able to access the variety of specialised higher courses that are commonly available to their urban counterparts.
Mobile coverage in Dumfries and Galloway is patchy, and access to mobile broadband is even more so, especially outwith the urban centres of population. Indeed, this year’s tourism economic activity monitor report for the region highlighted access to mobile broadband as the issue that is of greatest concern to tourism businesses.
Tourists expect to be able to navigate by their phone, research visitor attractions in an area and make bookings while they are on the move—and people increasingly expect to be able to do all that in the rural areas that they visit, just as they can in urban centres. I therefore warmly welcome the cabinet secretary’s commitment to work with the UK mobile network operators on an action plan to fill in the blank patches in my region.
I am happy to support the motion. I have outlined some of the benefits of digital connectivity for rural areas and some of the challenges that such areas face as we become increasingly interconnected. Above all, I am confident that the actions that the Scottish Government is taking to maximise digital connection and participation in Scotland are the right ones, and will help to realise Scotland’s full potential in a digital word.16:17
This has been an interesting and important debate that has covered a wide range of issues. I will touch on some of them.
Above all, we heard from many members about our digital ambitions for Scotland and the importance of digital connectivity for our economy. A key theme that is emerging from the debate is that we cannot and should not underestimate the importance of access to a digital communications structure that is fit for 21st century Scotland.
We rightly expect our children to learn to read and write, but we must also recognise that in today’s Scotland knowledge of and expertise in digital communications are essential if our young people are to access jobs in our economy.
As we heard, it is not just the workforce of tomorrow that needs to be equipped. As Daniel Johnson and other members said, the companies of today—large and small—need to be able to compete in an increasingly challenging market, in which they are often up against companies in countries whose Governments are prepared to invest in state-of-the-art digital infrastructure.
We therefore need to recognise, as Audit Scotland has done, that we can and must do better in Scotland. I do not think that any member disagrees with the four themes of Scotland’s digital future programme: connectivity, digital economy, digital participation and digital public services. However, as many members have said, we need to ensure that objectives are met on the ground, in our communities.
Members are right to have raised issues that people in their constituencies and regions face: I will do likewise. As Jamie Greene does, I represent West Scotland, which is one of the most urbanised and densely populated parts of Scotland, although the region also includes a number of rural areas. A key theme of today’s debate has been the digital divide—and not just the divide between areas of affluence and areas of material deprivation. As Rhoda Grant said, the market has provided for many areas, but rural areas and many urban areas have been left behind. Tom Arthur was right to raise the issues that exist in his constituency that affect people in Howwood and Lochwinnoch. In Scotland’s largest town, Paisley, there are still many issues around broadband. A number of householders in Hawkhead are living in new homes but are using dial-up broadband despite residents saying that the developer has installed the necessary infrastructure. There are a number of other examples in my region—other members have given examples in their areas—of households being still unable to access fibre-optic broadband because they are connected directly to the local telephone exchange and not through a green cabinet.
The problems that have been experienced in recent years can be resolved with effort, application and investment, but members have rightly made the point that a far more difficult issue is the lack of access for those who do not have the resources or the training to benefit from what our new digitally enhanced society can offer. As the minister said at the start of the debate, and as other members have echoed, it is therefore important that we recognise the generational digital divide. We cannot ignore elderly households whose bewilderment at the new technology excludes them from the financial advantages of being able, for example, to control their heating system from a smartphone. Why should they be excluded from the best online deals for goods and services just because they do not have access to a computer or a smartphone?
Emma Harper and Maree Todd made some important points about the role of technology in the NHS, but as we develop telecare systems for social care, we must ensure that elderly and disabled people who are already on the wrong side of the digital divide are in no way further disadvantaged.
Willie Coffey made important points about digital inclusion and digital technology as a tool for ensuring social justice. If Parliament is serious about tackling poverty, we need to be serious about digital inclusion. Why should poorer households with the lowest disposable incomes be forced to pay the highest prices—prices that members can avoid because we are able to access the internet? Monica Lennon made important points about the number of people who do not have access to the internet. If we truly want a digitally inclusive society we must address the households and communities that are being left behind.
Many of our councils are trying their best to bridge the digital divide. Monica Lennon gave examples from South Lanarkshire Council, and a number of councils are offering computer and internet access in libraries and other public facilities. However, I have to ask—it would be remiss not to—how our councils will be able to continue to offer such access to excluded and disadvantaged people if their budgets are slashed, which will force them to make even harsher cuts. I hope that the cabinet secretary and the Scottish Government will tell us how they will fund and ensure public access to digital facilities throughout Scotland. The Scottish Government must also consider how it supports the expansion of town-centre access to modern fast broadband such as Renfrewshire Council wants to deliver in its town centres.
As members have said, digital inclusion is also vital for education and skills. Daniel Johnson made some important points about the fact that the numbers of STEM teachers and computer science teachers are being cut. It should not be left to children whose parents can afford it, either at home or through private education, to have access to iPads, tablets and other digital devices. Such devices are becoming the norm for communication, research and learning, so it cannot be right that young people in deprived communities are trying to enter a competitive workforce without the same familiarity with modern systems as young people from more affluent backgrounds.
We can say that we want to break down barriers, to invest in infrastructure and to do what is required for individuals and households whose age, income or lack of connectivity means that they are being left behind, but we need to follow that up with real and meaningful action. That is why we will support the Government in providing world-leading digital infrastructure and access, but will hold it to account when it must do better.16:24
The debate has been interesting, and there have been some thoughtful, well-informed speeches from all parties. It has been all the better because it must be the first debate that we have had in quite a while in which there has been hardly a mention of Brexit—although the cabinet secretary could not help himself eight minutes into his speech—and not a single mention of a second independence referendum. Long may that trend continue.
Mike Rumbles talked about his frustration with his green box beside his non-existent trunk road, and we had the customary history lesson from Stewart Stevenson. I must correct one thing in his speech: if he checks, he will find that the riot in St Giles on 23 July 1637 was not occasioned by the reading of the Anglican “Book of Common Prayer”, but by the reading of a new common prayer book devised specifically for Scotland.
Will the member take a brief intervention on that point?
On that point? Yes, of course.
Stewart Stevenson was also wrong on a number of other issues. There was, of course, no such thing as the Greek empire, which he kept talking about. He was wrong on so many things that I cannot list them here.
If Mr Stevenson is interested in reading more about the politics and history of mid-17th century Scotland, I can recommend a very good book that was written last year and which is still available in good bookshops.
The digital economy has long been an interest of mine. In my very first speech in the Scottish Parliament in 2001, I talked about what was then called the “new economy” and the need for better connectivity in rural areas. I have reread that speech and, interestingly enough, the term “broadband” was not mentioned in the debate, never mind “superfast broadband”. However, the principles are the same.
In opening the debate, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity referred to his politics in business award—incidentally, I congratulate him on winning it at last week’s politician of the year awards. Like him, I congratulate Johann Lamont on her e-politician of the year award. Despite being nominated three times in a row, I was—once again—cruelly snubbed by the judges. There is always next year.
I was struck by the speeches from members who are much younger than me in which they recognised how much society has changed. Jamie Greene quoted from the Daily Record of 1 January 2000 the newspaper’s thoughts on how the world would change. Tom Arthur was very good, setting out some of the changes that he too has seen in his lifetime, which is much shorter than mine.
We have come a long way in 50 years. We have a Scottish Government with a manifesto commitment to deliver superfast broadband to 100 per cent of properties by 2021 and a UK Government that is committed to a universal service obligation. However, there are a lot of challenges ahead.
In its briefing for the debate, the Federation of Small Businesses tells us that three quarters of Scottish firms say that digital technologies are essential or important to their plans for growth. To make the most of the opportunities, firms need access to the right infrastructure and the right skills. Willie Coffey touched on the need for skills to be available in the workforce.
According to the FSB’s survey in June, 83 per cent of Scottish premises could access superfast broadband compared to 89 per cent of premises south of the border. Sadly, superfast broadband roll-out for small or medium-sized businesses tends to lag behind the roll-out for the wider population.
As we heard throughout the debate, there are particular issues in rural areas. Rhoda Grant, Edward Mountain and Maree Todd all referred to the situation in the Highlands. I know from my experience that there are large gaps in the provision of broadband in areas such as Perthshire and Stirlingshire. However, it is not just rural areas that need attention, and Graham Simpson reminded us that many urban locations have similar problems.
The lack of mobile connectivity is a big problem for large parts of Scotland—Emma Harper reminded us of that just a few moments ago—and Scotland’s position is the worst in the UK in that regard. I remember in my early years in the Parliament people complaining to MSPs about mobile phone masts—they thought that the radio waves would fry their or their children’s brains. Now people come to us to complain about mobile phone masts because they are not being built fast enough. More can be done to encourage the operators to share masts.
The member raises a very fair point about existing and new mobile phone masts. Does he welcome the actions to extend permitted development to encourage mobile operators to extend coverage and deliver the technology that will achieve the coverage that we all want to see?
In the spirit of consensus, I am very happy to agree with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution’s point about how we can encourage the private sector to work together to deliver masts more efficiently and get involved in the sharing of masts, which is important.
Having talked about the private sector, I will touch on the situation in the public sector, to which a number of members, including Daniel Johnson and Graham Simpson, referred.
On Tuesday, Deloitte and Reform launched the report “The State of the State 2016-17: Brexit and the business of government”, which contains a lot of interesting information about the future of public services. As Daniel Johnson reminded us, the report said that more than 800,000
“public sector jobs could be lost to automation by 2030”
in the UK, which would save something like
“£17 billion annually in wages compared to 2015.”
Such a shift would be gradual, but it shows the challenges that we face regarding a changing workforce, as well as the potential for lower costs in the delivery of public services.
However, as the report made clear, digital transformation is struggling to meet that ambition. Many of those who were interviewed for the report told the authors that they felt that their organisations should be more digitally advanced than they had been able to achieve. One permanent secretary said that he felt that his department was
“always a year away from an outcome.”
The head of a national body in Scotland said:
“We’re at digital 1.0, but digital 3.0 or 4.0 is where we need to be”.
Sadly, too many of those in the public sector who are moving towards more digitised systems have had a negative experience. Another public sector leader who was quoted in the report said:
“We have wasted time digitising systems that weren’t fit for purpose in the first place. It’s rethinking these systems that will radically improve productivity.”
Will the member give way?
I am probably in my last minute—I apologise.
In Scotland, our experience of information technology systems in the public sector is not always a happy one. We all know about the IT system for common agricultural policy payments, which was 158 per cent over the original budget. Audit Scotland said of that system:
“We do not expect the programme to deliver value for money.”
The IT system for NHS 24 is 73 per cent over budget and due to be completed four years later than originally planned. Police Scotland had to abandon the project that was intended to provide a unified, integrated IT system for the country’s police force—the system had been due to go live in December 2015.
The report quotes the leader of one national agency who said:
“Most people in the public sector would rather die in a ditch than roll out a large IT system. It will end their career.”
Such views are disappointing, but perhaps not surprising. We need to get better in the public sector if we really want to fulfil our potential in the digital world. The opportunities are there for greater efficiency and for more productive public services, but at the moment we are simply not making it work. There is room for improvement in both public and private sectors, and we have seen in the debate that the way forward is to work together. In the spirit of consensus, we are happy to support both the Labour amendment and the Government motion.16:32
Today’s debate has been constructive, helpful and consensual, and a number of fair suggestions were made that will feature in our refreshed digital strategy. To pick up where Murdo Fraser left off, we will need to be bold and radical, and we will need to work in partnership across the public and private sectors to achieve the digital transformation. As the lead for the Government, I have been working with the Scottish leaders forum, with local authorities and with a range of people who are involved in digital activity. The approach of doing things differently will continue as we embark on the process to realise our shared digital ambitions.
I want to cover as many points as possible that members raised. Edward Mountain was correct to draw attention to the fact that the fibre infrastructure will not physically reach every part of Scotland. We will take it as far as we possibly can, but other technological solutions will have to be used for the areas that we cannot reach in order to achieve 100 per cent superfast broadband coverage, and we will expand mobile coverage as well. The solutions go beyond fibre, so that was a fair point to make.
Jamie Greene covered digital participation, as did Patrick Harvie, as well as the use of data and the potential for public sector transformation. There was a sense in the past that things felt quite futuristic, which is a further lesson in why we should future proof as much as we can, in recognition of the technology mix that will exist.
Rhoda Grant covered the potential of the strategy refresh and made a number of suggestions. She said that the strategy must be turned into actions and cannot just be rhetoric, which is a fair point. There must be clear actions from the strategy, and I hope that members will believe that that is the case when we publish it next year.
One reason why we cannot publish the strategy now relates to Neil Bibby’s question about resourcing for capital infrastructure for connectivity. That is closely aligned with the autumn statement, the budget that I will propose and what parties bring to the table. As recently as a few hours ago, I met the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to discuss our request for a capital stimulus to support and grow the economy and tackle the digital divide.
Willie Coffey covered the rapid progress in technology, which he is well placed to talk about—I am talking about not his longevity but his experience in the sector. He talked about how we can stay ahead, be at the cutting edge and do things differently, like other small European nations. Those nations have a different culture. They focus on how to use data—in a safe way—to deliver better public services, and we have something to learn from them.
I heard the concerns of Tom Arthur and other members about coverage in their constituencies, which must be taken on board. Equally, I take on board Daniel Johnson’s comments about productivity and automation. Smart technology has downsides, which we need to consider, even as we accept the positives on the journey.
It was refreshing to hear about Emma Harper’s expertise and her involvement in technology’s transformation of surgery. We heard about Stewart Stevenson’s ever-present expertise in digital. I say to Murdo Fraser that I was up for a politician of the year award, too, but, in all modesty, he was robbed of the award of e-politician of the year. However, I give all credit to Johann Lamont.
Patrick Harvie was creative and used quotes to make important points about digital participation. I quote Steve Jobs, who said:
“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”
That maxim applies equally to government, hence the double act—the silver surfer that is Mr Ewing and the salt-and-pepper surfer, perhaps, that is me. I thank Jackson Carlaw for exposing my previous issues.
Such partnership, with Mr Swinney addressing skills and with the public service transformation that I will take forward, will ensure that the physical infrastructure is there. I hope that, when we publish the refreshed strategy, it will cover all the areas that are of interest across the public and private sectors. It will be not just a Government strategy but a strategy for Scotland. It will look at skills, physical infrastructure and cybersecurity, which some members touched on.
We want to engage on those issues and continue to build a picture of what will work for Scotland. I am delighted to announce that we have launched an online interactive dialogue app so that we can capture a wider and more diverse range of views as we take our strategy forward.
Digital creates vast possibilities for our citizens. It affects how citizens engage with society and the Government and how they access public services and a host of other services. It enables us to deliver those services more efficiently and effectively. It affects how people manage their health and how they learn and engage. It enables us to get more out of the education system and affects how businesses operate and capitalise on opportunities.
We are making significant progress on promoting digital participation. More than 80 per cent of Scots now use the internet. Between 2013 and 2015, there was around a 20 per cent increase—from 42 to 63 per cent—in broadband access at home among social housing tenants. Our digital inclusion toolkit is important to enabling us to expand on that. The Scottish wide area network telecoms section will reach out through the public sector, and there are further interventions to tackle the digital divide.
I could go through a range of actions that we are taking. A good example of where e-services have worked well is from e-planning and e-building standards, which are projected to save £73 million over five years, having cost just under £2 million. That digital-first approach to services can make a difference for the client and the determining body.
We want to enhance business digital capabilities, too. The enterprise and skills review will support us in that, as will new initiatives such as CivTech, which I have had the pleasure of being involved with, to harness new ways of supporting the talents of technology start-up companies and address our joint civic challenges. A range of other interventions will support our digital strategy to capitalise on the opportunities in the wider economy.
I will briefly mention Brexit. I have engaged with the sector, which says that there are serious challenges that relate to the loss of expertise. We must take those concerns seriously, but we must focus on the opportunities that are before us to build our economy, tackle the digital divide and transform our public services in a way that focuses on the new infrastructure that will release our country’s potential, as Daniel Johnson described.
Such investment is well worth supporting. The consensus that we have established in the chamber today puts us on a strong footing as we take forward the revised strategy.