Few of us will have missed recent headlines speculating that the threat of recession looms over Scotland once more. But lost in the blame game being directed towards Brexit and Indyref 2 is the big white elephant standing in business premises, public buildings and homes across the country – our bursting-at-the-seams digital connectivity.
While many of Scotland’s traditional breadwinner industries are facing decline, the digital sector presents massive opportunity to drive accelerated economic growth and investment through business expansion, new start-ups, academia, job creation, skills development and innovation – but only if we have the infrastructure to support it.
In findings published in this year’s Tech Nation Report, Glasgow was revealed to be home to one of the highest concentrations of high-growth digital tech businesses in the UK and the digital sector in Edinburgh was noted to have grown by 85% and by a whopping 171% in Dundee.
The report also found that the biggest challenge facing UK digital tech businesses right now is sourcing and securing talent. What attracts talent? Digital capabilities that meet the needs of the brightest entrepreneurial minds now, and in the future.
This clearly demonstrates the potential that already exists in Scotland, but looking through a glass half empty, it shows what we could lose if the industry’s demand for bandwidth continues to outstrip our infrastructure’s capabilities.
Currently, according to the World Economic Forum, the UK lags at the bottom of the list of digitally connected nations with an average speed of around 14mbps compared to 20mbps or more across Northern Europe and Asia. Over the past few years, CityFibre has been working hard to address this fibre gap by installing entirely new pure fibre infrastructure across the country. Our footprint now reaches 42 cities including four in Scotland.
However, we cannot keep doing this alone. Policy and regulation is now moving in the right direction following recent announcements from Ofcom and the Chancellor’s plan to start rolling out the Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund later this spring. I’d like to see this funding reach all corners of the UK to ensure the fibre revolution benefits all.
It’s time that we stopped focussing on areas of uncertainty and instead put energy into the things that we can be confident about. In the past, investment in traditional infrastructure such as roads, bridges and railways has delivered significant economic benefit by creating jobs, supporting local supply chains and improving conditions for local businesses.
Digital infrastructure is no different, and its benefits are much farther reaching in many ways. It not only supports those who build it, it drives competitiveness, productivity and efficiency in those who use it – whether it’s small businesses, universities or public services such as schools and hospitals. It also underpins the development of new digital services, for instance tele-healthcare for rural and vulnerable patients, e-learning for school, college and university students and smart city platforms such as CCTV and street lighting.
Ultimately, if Scotland is to keep its head above water during these challenging times, and to continue to punch above its weight in areas such as technology and innovation, it needs to invest in the future, and the future is not paved in asphalt, it is lined with fibre.
James McClafferty, Head of Regional Development in Scotland, CityFibre
For more information about CityFibre and Scotland’s Gigabit City projects, visit: www.cityfibre.com