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Edinburgh and the digital economy

Posted: 2nd June 2016

Scotland’s digital future was high on the political agenda ahead of last month’s Scottish Government elections, and rightly so. A report commissioned by the Scottish Futures Trust late last year estimated that increased digitalisation could boost our nation’s economy by up to £13 billion in the next 15 years.

Findings from the same report highlighted huge potential for business growth. By improving productivity, business creation, exports, jobs and earning levels, it’s clear to see why. The business community needs to play an active role in ensuring these goals are achieved. From calling for government to make the necessary investment and steps to achieve increased digitalisation, to taking advantage of new developments when they become available and digitalising their own processes. We must acknowledge however the ongoing efforts to digitalise our capital, from the new digital, touch screen bus shelters that will provide real-time tourism, local and council information; and electronic transport ticketing; to the introduction of free Wi-Fi across Edinburgh encouraging increased connectivity.

There are five Scottish finalists at the Digital Leaders 100 awards next month, including Edinburgh City Council, where their efforts towards digital transformation are being celebrated. The Council’s outsourcing of ICT services to facilitate its digital channel shift and deliver cost savings is a great example of where a long term strategy to modernise Edinburgh is already in place. As is the Council’s ‘Digital Learning Team’ visiting schools to teach and inspire the next generation.

Providing the future workforce with the relevant digital skills is key to meeting demand and facilitating business growth in years to come. Skills Development Scotland’s ‘Digital World’ initiative is working to promote careers in the digital technology industry for this very reason – supporting long-term technology industry in Scotland. With around 50,000 new roles expected to be created by 2020 (11,000 per year), it is vital that school, college and university leavers are equipped with the knowledge to fill this gap. Both the business and education sectors need to work together to find effective solutions – Regional Developing Young Workforces will play a huge role in facilitating this growing relationship.
Employing over 100,000 people in Scotland and contributing £1.5 billion to the Scottish economy, protecting the longevity of the country’s digital sector, supporting future growth as well as retaining and building our skilled workforce, has huge benefits to the country’s long term success. Playing a leading role in Scotland’s digital transformation will have massive benefits for Edinburgh’s case to be a world class, modern capital.

Of course, a successful digital sector will have a positive impact on the national and local economies. According to Tech City UK’s recent report, over 21,300 people are estimated to work in digital roles across Edinburgh and are among the highest paid in the sector across the UK. The city’s appeal for digital businesses as well as skilled, digital workers has a positive impact on local commercial and property markets; hospitality and retail; and help to drive the growth of digital learning in our universities.  The economic value of our festivals will also increase massively. A recent report from Festivals and Events International found that the Edinburgh Festivals were “behind the curve” in terms of digital innovation. Free Wi-Fi across the city however will provide increased opportunities to engage with new audiences and increase reach, helping organisers to develop its digital infrastructure in the long term. More importantly, it will help protect its reputation as a world-leading cultural event. What is abundantly clear is that improving Edinburgh’s digital infrastructure will have a huge impact on a number of different sectors and different groups of people. Competing on an international stage as a world class, leading city not only means we need to meet current digital demands but also make long term change to facilitate growth across all sectors.

Business Comment

Business Comment is the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s bi-monthly magazine. It provides insight on Edinburgh’s vibrant business community, with features on the city’s key sectors, interviews with leading figures and news on new business developments in the capital.
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