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Bridging the gap in Scotland’s Rural, Tourism and Digital Economies

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Smart Village Scotland’s strategy to tackle the gap in the development of Scotland’s Communities, its SME businesses, Tourism and the Digital economy in Rural Scotland.

As we enter a new challenging year of uncertainty, with minds focused on the outcome of Brexit and its impact on the Scottish Economy. There is a need to ensure that Rural Scotland is not left further behind. On 20th November 2018, Kate Forbes MSP, Minister of Public Finance and the Digital Economy, reflected in her Motion on the Scottish Digital Economy. In Rural Scotland and its SME businesses where, despite being connected, over 52% have yet to fully adopt the benefits of Digital working (Source Scotland Rural College report). This is linked to Rural and Tourism Development both of which, can positively drive the Scottish Digital Economy.

Many parts of rural Scotland have suffered from a lack of support in recent years as a consequence of Local Development and Action Plans being unintentionally left in drawers gathering dust for many reasons. For some, it may be lack of available funding, lack of staff or simply a lack of ambition and aspiration or even the general period of austerity. Despite the fact that Digital networks do exist, it has for many, sadly not delivered the drive in the uptake of Digital working. As a consequence, many rural villages and small towns are tired and run down in appearance, with many having lost their kerb appeal. Many such communities hold excellent Tourism potential. Sometimes a simple plan and guiding hand is all that’s needed to inspire that important motivation to quickly improve things.

Focus in recent years has majored on Tourism promotion of Scotland’s Cities and Major Attractions and rightly so, due to their unquestionable value to the Scottish Economy. Recent attention has also been afforded on “Smart City” and “City Deals” However, the potential within Rural Scotland for Tourism is also significant and is massively understated. With Rural Scotland holding around 20% of the Scottish population and SMEs and representing almost 98% of the Scottish land mass, its essential to consider a Strategy and Action Plan aimed at integrating with the various Stakeholders and partners in a combined project to make a significant improvement across Scotland. Smart Village Scotland is such a Strategy and plan to build our Digital Nation as well as directly benefiting Rural and Tourism Development.

A Growing and Innovative Sector

Scotland’s Digital Economy supports 102,000 Digital Occupations. Digital and IT sector is currently worth around £5.2 Bn and is expected to be the fastest growing sector by 2024. This sector needs an additional 12,800 new employees every year just to stand still. The majority of these jobs are within SME channels. There are many barriers facing this sector, Scotland’s productivity is in need of a boost, some are structural and others are down to Aspiration and Ambition. Fresh ideas are desperately needed. This is a key benefit of the Smart Village Strategy and integrated approach.

The Smart Village initiative delivered through Digital Scotland offers a strategy that is focused on Rural and Tourism Development to drive the Scottish Digital Economy. The Strategy and it’s related Action Plan comes from several years of research and development with working models where the Smart Village strategy has already proven to have been successful.

The Initiative has been presented to Key Organisations such as: Scottish Government MSPs Scottish Enterprise (Digital) Visit Scotland, Scottish Local Authorities Economic Development and Rural Development Scotland with positive feedback. European Interest has been expressed in the strategy and Action Plan with Invitations to present “Smart Village Scotland” initiative at European conferences.

Bridging the Gap

The Smart Village Initiative helps to “Bridge the Gap” that exists in a number of areas:

  • between Smart City environments, Regions and Rural Communities “Smart evolution” supporting the Scottish Government ‘s £600m investment on the R100 program on superfast broadband
  • between Rural Communities and realising Tourism potential – where appropriate
  • between Local Development Action Plans and Communities desperate for help
  • between Rural SMEs and proactive uptake of Digital Connectivity identifying Skills needs and creating Educational benefits for young people
  • helping tired Communities find a route to Aspiration and Ambition to realise digital benefits within the Community
  • helping Rural Communities to cope with Brexit transition in whatever manifestation, if it happens
  • between Digital Networks and Technological benefits of IoT and other developments
  • addressing the lack of Rural employment and creating new job opportunities in Rural Scotland, helping retain school leavers in Rural Communities with meaningful employment
  • taking Scotland’s Rural Communities from where they are, to being a contributing part of a Successful Digital Nation.

Action Plan

  1. Empowering Rural Communities to look at the kerb appeal and if it is tired or run down, to do something positive to enhance it through people power, this is the first step with immediate, sometimes amazing, impact.
  2. Creating a common purpose and restoring pride in the Community. Preparing the community with the right mind set and focus to create the right environment to appeal to visitors from home and from overseas.
  3. Showing communities that Tourism is vital, not only to Scotland but to their own local economy when the Tourists start to arrive and contribute. (Where appropriate)
  4. Realise the History, Heritage, and local attractions that often exist right on the doorstep and have perhaps not been realised yet, to add to the appeal of the Community.
  5. A Digital platform is required to professionally present the new found or existing attractions. This fits with the Scottish Government aims on Scotland’s Digital Economy but reaching out to the Rural Communities as much as local Business as they are also part of this inclusive strategy. New Technological Development such as Flood Warning Systems, IOT and other technologies can be easily integrated.
  6. This is an innovative approach where Rural Development drives Tourism and Tourism in return can drive further Rural Development both boosting Digital connectivity.
  7. Encourage Partnerships and Collaboration and through time, this drives new much needed employment opportunities in Rural Communities. Extend the reach of the Plan to all community Groups, Schools and local businesses for mutual inclusive benefit. Networking Community links with Nearby Villages to Towns and Cities.
  8. This initiative is specific, measurable and achievable with a dedicated team of experienced consultants working with communities and other key stakeholders to deliver agreed targets in growth in new Tourism streams. Above all it should be realistic in its local aims and within an agreed timescale.
  9. The developing communities with guidance, can quickly take over the Tourism activity management as a sustainable process with on-going support through our team, partnering with Visit Scotland and other Key stakeholders in Tourism and Rural Development – This may include consulting with groups such as Councils, SLAED, Scottish Enterprise, Health, Education, and Environmental bodies.
  10. The Smart Village initiative offers a real example template with communities already in action with a proven working model showing this bottom up approach works and compliments the need to drive Scotland’s Digital and Tourism Economy strategies.
  11. The initiative with basic funding, can quickly roll out Strategically, targeting suitable communities one community or small Regional groups at a time and evolve as community engagement carries the momentum forward, working to a deliverable timescale and revitalised local Development Plans.
  12. SMEs including local businesses offering accommodation, food and drink and local transport operators will be part of the collaborative drive to achieve these goals safeguarding employment and opening opportunity for new job creation through the proactive uptake of Digital connectivity. Agriculture, Crofting, Fishing and land management communities can also significantly benefit from this initiative.

Smart Village Scotland is fuelled by passion, enthusiasm and a vision to help Scotland achieve all it aspires to be as a successful Digital Nation.

The Smart Village Scotland Initiative is delivered through Digital Scotland. The initiative is led by Kenny Higgins Senior Consultant and Neil McEvoy CEO Digital Scotland and other specialists in Digital and Tourism Management on a large scale.

Further information please contact:

kenny@smartvillage.scot or neil@digitalscot.net

About Kenny Higgins

Innovative, and successful senior manager and director serving 31 years with British Telecom - first sales exec in wireless communications, head of wireless data having senior management experience within corporate, organisations, public sector and SME businesses. Multiple award winner on sales achievement and application developments.

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Kenny Higgins
Innovative, and successful senior manager and director serving 31 years with British Telecom - first sales exec in wireless communications, head of wireless data having senior management experience within corporate, organisations, public sector and SME businesses. Multiple award winner on sales achievement and application developments.

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