Interview: Polly Purvis, ScotlandIS

Interview: Polly Purvis, ScotlandIS

Polly Purvis

 Immigration rhetoric is ‘worrying’

The talk will be about grids and coding and robotics and all that sort of stuff when the digital people gather to chew over technology issues at  the EICC.

Some of the brightest and most inventive business leaders will exchange ideas and consider where they go next as the Scottish technology sector basks in a justified blaze of glory at the ScotSoft conference.

It is reckoned to contribute about £4 billion to the economy and employ 80,000, mainly highly-educated and well-paid people. As such they help raise the overall level of prosperity through their spending power.

The sector’s success is attributed in part to the level of collaboration between government departments, the universities and the financial sector who provide the glue for a mesmerising range of projects emanating from the country’s entrepreneurs.

Polly Purvis, chief executive of the trade body and conference organiser ScotlandIS, says: “The eco-system is growing all the time and more people are prepared to have a go at putting their ideas into a business. Entrepreneurialism is seen as cool, and that’s a good thing.”

Edinburgh in particular has earned a reputation as a global tech centre, but as she explains, there are underlying concerns to guard against complacency.

She has two at the top of her list: the need for the Scottish government to stretch its connectivity targets, and the second for the UK government to think carefully about its vigorous plans to curb immigration.

DB Photography advert 2On the first, she acknowledges Holyrood’s commitment to speeding thing up, but she notes that there are always others going faster and requiring Scotland to keep ratcheting up its plans.

A more immediate issue is the language and likely policies that will follow from the UK government’s response to the Brexit vote.

“I am very worried about the rhetoric on workers from overseas,” she says. “They are an essential part of the labour market; they bring great talents and contribute to the diversity of the workforce.”

She points to a certain irony that the Scots diaspora spread ideas and prosperity throughout the world.

“We have been great at exporting our own talent to other countries,”says Purvis. “There has to be a recognition that we benefit from talented people coming to Britain.”

The technology sector has certainly been a beneficiary of immigrant labour. Overseas students have stayed on to create many of Scotland’s spin-outs, or contribute to the IT, telecoms and engineering industries generally. A big worry for many is that these students will not only struggle in future to remain in Britain; they may not be allowed here in the first place.

Purvis says policies to curb immigration should not disrupt the development of the eco-system that has enabled technology companies to flourish in Scotland.

The sector is now home to one of the biggest clusters in Europe and is attracting the attention of investors, also from overseas as well as from those encouraging them to join the stock market where they could raise significant capital.

“We are well served with angels just now, but certainly the next level of funding is difficult,” says Purvis who made “scaling up” a theme of the ScotSoft conference.

“The Scottish Investment Bank is helping to plug the gap, but we do need more venture capitalists.”

Despite these shortcomings, Scotland is now producing companies with national and, in some cases, international reputations: Skyscanner, FanDuel, Craneware, Iomart, and the most recent success Appointedd, which last week secured a big deal in the US.

It has also been traditional for many of these companies to sell up, much to the irritation of those who would prefer to see them grow even bigger and take on global rivals.

“Fifteen or so years ago I railed against it [early sales], but in many cases you see people sell and then re-invest in creating more companies. Look at David Sibbald, he is on to his third and fourth company. He’s creating business opportunities and jobs.

“We have also seen firms grow by acquisition, firms like Iomart. We have shown we can create our own and build for the future. We just have to create a few more.”


Birthplace: Amersham, Buckinghamshire

Age: 62

Education: Newcastle University (Agriculture and food marketing)

Career highlights: Royal Bank of Scotland (Williams & Glyn’s), in the City of London; Scottish Enterprise, progressing to acting director of Scottish Enterprise Edinburgh & Lothian’s company growth division; Matrix Management; Scottish Software Federation; ScotlandIS

What is the best advice you received?

Do not forget that the world is a very small place and you may find yourself working again with someone you once found difficult to work with.

What other involvement do you have in the tech sector?

I represent ScotlandIS on the Digital Excellence Business Excellence Partnership, the Tech Partnership UK Scotland board, the ICT Skills Group, the Industrial Advisory Board of the University of Dundee’s School of Computing. Also chair the board of CodeClan and I am a director of dotScot Registry.


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