Skills and single market top agenda

Russell urges cross-party talks on Brexit options

Mike Russell: options (photo by Terry Murden)
Mike Russell: options (photo by Terry Murden)

‘We must remain optimistic’

Scottish government Brexit minister Mike Russell today said there was a better chance of getting ‘almost the best for Scotland’ by all political parties and others sharing their thoughts.

He told a digital industry conference that he was looking at “all options”, including a second independence referendum, and said the process of working out solutions post-Brexit would be “extremely complex and difficult”.

He added: “We must be optimistic. We will not get what we wish for unless we believe.

“I am very keen to hear what other parties want. We have more chance of getting where we need to be by working together across sectors, geographies and politics, so we can get ‘almost the best for Scotland’.”

Mr Russell, who was appointed after the EU referendum to look into Scotland’s place in the post-Brexit world, told delegates to the ScotSoft conference in Edinburgh that key Brexit issues facing the sector were chief among his concerns.

These included the impact of tighter controls on immigration and the prospect of the UK not having access to the single market.

“I have had discussions with a renewables company and a Japanese company recently and they both said they needed access to the single market. No ifs or buts.”

He said he was a committed Remain supporter but would listen to those who saw benefits from leaving the EU as well those who have different views of the way forward.

“We need a rational approach and we need to hear the rational evidence,” he said.

Derek Mackay: collaboration (photo by Terry Murden)
Derek Mackay: collaboration (photo by Terry Murden)

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay said the digital industry and the public sector could prosper together through greater collaboration.

He said the public sector suffered from duplication and by not being up to speed with technological change, but it was a problem that the private sector could fix.

“The Scottish government is getting more powers and it is important that we get it right from the outset. We need to look at our systems, some of which are creaking, to focus on a digital first approach.”

The conference heard a fresh call for action to resolve a chronic skills shortage and gender imbalance, with suggestions ranging from ‘army style’ television advertising campaigns to educating children in infancy about the attractions of technology.

Changing the sector’s image was perceived as an ongoing issue that needed to be addressed in order to fill 11,000 vacancies each year.

Polly Purvis, chief executive of trade body and conference organiser ScotlandIS, said only half of those came into the industry through traditional education.

The sector is expected to grow by 15% from 83,000 to 92,000 employed by 2020 and needed to find ways to change perceptions, she said.

Emma Gillies: opportunities (photo by Terry Murden)
Emma Gillies: opportunities (photo by Terry Murden)

It was an issue picked by the Scottish government’s digital delegate Emma Gillies.

“We have to demonstrate that we are not all geeks and that there are many exciting opportunities on offer,” she said.

Harvey Wheaton, head of the Edinburgh-based CodeClan skills academy, set up to re-train people from other disciplines, said it had been able to place most of its crash-course coding ‘graduates’ into jobs.

“Some are being snapped up before they complete the course,” he said, adding that the facility was playing its part in educating the wider workforce.

“We’re getting 12 lawyers coming in on Monday. They want to understand what their customers are talking about.”

Interview: Polly Purvis expresses concerns on immigration

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