09 Sep 2020
By Stuart Patrick, Chief Executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce
Amongst the commitments the Scottish Government makes in its programme for next year is the delivery of the recommendations of Mark Logan’s Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review. The report is frankly excellent, setting out why Scotland does not yet have a plentiful supply of new technology companies to match the success of Skyscanner, where Mr Logan was formerly Chief Operating Officer, and how we should now go about changing Scotland’s performance.
It takes the time to clarify what it means by a technology business – one that fundamentally involves software engineering – and takes a regularly abused term, ‘eco-system’, and sets out logical step after step how such a system should work. I hope it isn’t the kiss of death to suggest that the report revives and reshapes much of the thinking that went into the Business Birth Rate Strategy which Crawford Beveridge championed in his stint as Scottish Enterprise Chief Executive in the 1990’s. That initiative won very wide support and also argued for a long-term, systemic change, working stage by stage through the cultures and structures that affected Scotland’s entrepreneurial record.
There will be a temptation for government to cherry-pick one or two of his recommendations for special attention. The proposal for a network of Tech-Scaler start-up incubator centres in each of the country’s major cities looks to be a firm candidate, not least since it is the very first of his 34 recommendations and is wisely pitched as an investment with visibility across much of the country.
That temptation needs to be resisted because as Logan quite rightly emphasises, the report’s crucial theme is the developing of a fully functioning system; all the parts have to be working effectively. That means in practice that his proposals for transforming the teaching of computing science in our schools are as important as all that he says about technology start-up incubators. Indeed he makes it clear that the most important recommendations are in the reform of computing science education which made me wonder why those didn’t come first in his concluding list. We need computing science to be treated in the same way as maths and we need to overcome the challenges in recruiting specialist computing science teachers.
The report has a simple, elegant structure working from the pre-start environment right through to the point that successful companies are attracting substantial private investment. Along the way it hits the right tone, recognising the good work being done by existing projects like Codeclan which offers short intensive training programmes in software engineering and explains how they fit with his structure. Nobody’s worthwhile efforts are dismissed or stood upon. We should be building willingly on all that has been achieved so far.
There are also a few important themes that would also help wider economic development although that is not Logan’s task. So, for example, he criticises the cost of the train journeys between Glasgow and Edinburgh as amongst the most expensive in Europe and a barrier to the easy hiring of talent in a pool that no one Scottish city can sustain on its own. Several sectors could benefit from an easier sharing of talent between the two cities.
So too, his recommendations on ‘market squares’ – as permanent physical spaces for widespread meeting and sharing experiences - have implications across industry. The development of Innovation Districts by the University of Strathclyde and the University of Glasgow share the same aspirations albeit for multi-disciplinary sharing that could lead to breakthroughs in sciences well beyond those addressed by Logan.
The Logan report deserves to be widely read, vigorously discussed and enacted in full by the Scottish Government.