I'm pleased to submit this report from the collaborative economy advisory panel to Cabinet Secretary Keith Brown which recommends a number of specific and general actions for Scotland to take advantage of the growing use of digital, collaborative platforms and tackle some of the challenges they can pose in certain sectors.
This voluntary advisory panel was given an enormously wide ranging brief, and there are a number of key messages that are important to share.
Firstly, is to underscore the extreme complexity of this work. The variety of platforms available for anyone to use, the diversity of professional and non-professional actors on each of those platforms makes for a highly complex and fluid operating and regulatory environment. Even in the short lifetime of this panel's work, we have seen changes and developments that have changed and influenced our thinking. This means that there are recommendations within this report which will inevitably address some, but by no means all, of the concerns or opportunities that exist. This panel's work must form part of a process of open dialogue and investigation that must continue in some form, across a range of groups into 2018 and beyond.
The second is to make clear the scale of the opportunity that is available to Scotland at this point: which is significant. The use of digital platforms and marketplaces that allow people to co-ordinate and share skills, labour, knowledge, assets and resources is not going to disappear, regardless of the challenges it poses in some areas. The YouGov survey, commissioned by the Scottish Government as part of this panel's work, found that 35% of Scottish adults have already participated in the collaborative economy. Across the UK, there are an estimated five million workers participating in the gig economy.
The 'collaborative economy' has become synonymous with a very small number of platforms, however this belies the very long tail of activity on less well-publicised platforms and the huge potential to actively shape the collaborative economy in new sectors and industries. The need for the Scottish Government to seize the opportunity to shape – or else be shaped by – digital, collaborative platforms is probably the biggest message coming out of our work. That means working with existing platforms, but perhaps more importantly, it means creating the right environment for innovation; to develop and support new platforms that meet currently unmet needs within Scotland, which can deliver more than just economic value.
The third point relates to the rise of self-employment, the rise of the number of people working in the gig economy and how that is fundamentally shifting patterns of work. Close The Gap, reports that self-employment accounted for over 80% of the growth of the number of businesses in Scotland over the last decade, with women accounting for 70% of this. The principles of Fair Work must be the standard by which we assess employment and skills-based activities on collaborative platforms, alongside much more research to understand the impacts of these new ways of working and greater experimentation to mitigate issues of (un)conscious bias in selecting or recruiting people through digital, collaborative platforms.
Finally, I want to extend my sincere thanks for the extensive commitment and contributions of the advisory panel. This cross-sector group represented a very wide and diverse range of views and perspectives and have, from the outset, engaged openly and constructively together in assessing this complex territory. I also extend huge appreciation and thanks to the many organisations who took the time to submit evidence to the panel, which can be found along with the evidence analysis, on the Scottish Government website.
Chair, Expert Advisory Panel on the Collaborative Economy CEO, Young Foundation