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UK unveils ‘world-leading’ Digital Strategy

Karen Bradley, the UK Culture Secretary, has launched a Digital Strategy designed to create a world-leading digital economy that works for everyone, with skills, infrastructure and innovation at its heart. It backs the UK digital sectors to invest for the long term and includes measures to help all businesses harness the productivity benefits of digital innovation.

The strategy follows the recent modern Industrial Strategy, and will help Britain to build on its strengths to secure a future as a competitive, global nation.

According to the government, businesses have played an important role developing the strategy. To capitalise on these new relationships and deliver a thriving, outward-looking digital economy, the strategy also sets out plans to empower innovative businesses and deliver world-class connectivity. This includes:

  • The creation of five international tech hubs in emerging markets to create and develop partnerships between UK companies and local tech firms. These hubs will help provide British businesses with a global competitive edge and drive collaboration on skills, innovation, technology, and research and development. The hubs will be based upon the successful UK-Israel Tech Hub which to date has delivered more than 80 partnerships with a deal value of £62 million (€72.46m).
  • A new competition to spark the development of new FinTech products that can support those who struggle to access financial services and provide consumers with the tools they need to manage their finances well. This will build on the UK’s existing lead in the FinTech sector, which was worth more than £6.6 billion in 2015, and make sure the digital economy works for all, not just the privileged few.
  • A commitment to create a Secretary of State-led forum for government and the tech community to work together to spark growth in the digital economy – through innovation and the adoption of digital in the wider economy.
  • A Business Connectivity Forum, to be chaired by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to bring together business organisations, local authorities and communications providers to help businesses access fast, affordable and reliable broadband.
  • Confirmation of £1 billion programme to keep Britain at the forefront of digital connectivity, announced at Autumn Statement. This funding will accelerate the development and uptake of next generation digital infrastructure – including full fibre broadband plans and 5G.

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Karen Bradley said the UK’s world-leading digital sectors were a major driver of growth and productivity, and the government was determined to protect and strengthen them. “This Digital Strategy sets a path to make Britain the best place to start and grow a digital business, trial a new technology, or undertake advanced research as part of the Government’s plan to build a modern, dynamic and global trading nation. To do that, we will work closely with businesses and others to make sure the benefits and opportunities are spread across the country so nobody is left behind,” she vowed.

“There should be no digital divide – every individual and every business should have the skills and confidence to make the most of digital technology and have easy access to high-quality internet wherever they live, work, travel or learn.”

At the heart of the strategy are steps to ensure everyone can develop the skills they need to thrive in an increasingly digital world and measures to help businesses harness the benefits of innovation.

Government has taken the lead in this area and has committed to help adults who lack core digital skills to access training free of charge, similar to the approach taken for literacy and numeracy. The strategy builds on this by establishing a Digital Skills Partnership and, as part of the Digital Strategy, Government has secured the following new pledges from private sector organisations:

  • Google will launch a Summer of Skills programme in coastal towns across the UK. It will develop bespoke digital skills training schemes to help boost tourism and growth in seaside towns.
  • Lloyds Banking Group is to give face-to-face digital skills training to 2.5 million individuals, small and medium businesses and charities by 2020. The training, as part of its Helping Britain Prosper Plan, will include Internet banking.
  • Barclays will assist up to 1 million people with general digital skills and cyber awareness in 2017, grow its UK Eagle Lab network by up to 100 per cent, and teach basic coding to 45,000 children.
  • BT will expand its Barefoot Computing Project to enable a further 500,000 children to develop early computational thinking skills by the end of the 2017/18 academic year. The scheme helps primary school teachers with no previous computer science background feel confident to teach the new computing science curriculum.
  • The HP Foundation will bring a free online learning platform – HP LIFE – to the UK. This will improve business, IT and digital skills for disadvantaged groups in the UK and aims to reach 6,000 new UK users over the next five years.
  • Accenture will partner with FutureLearn to develop a new national digital skills programme to boost learning through online collaboration. Through partners, the programme could reach as many as 100,000 people across the UK.

Josh Hardie, CBI Deputy Director-General, said that UK companies were at the forefront of the digital revolution. “The pledges announced by the Government underline businesses’ commitment to build the skills we need for a modern economy, as well as tackle barriers to technology adoption. To uphold our position as a world-leading digital economy businesses, we and the Government need to work together – the strategy’s focus on skills, connectivity and innovation provide a useful framework for this.”

Ronan Harris, Google Managing Director UK & Ireland, said: “We believe that digital can have a transformative impact, no matter where you live and what your job is. Everyone deserves access to the tools and opportunities the web has to offer and that is why we welcome the Government’s timely Digital Strategy which ensures the benefits of the digital economy are spread across the country.”

“We are delighted to be part of the Digital Skills Partnership and will continue to invest in the free skills training offered through the Digital Garage, launch a new programme aiming to help seaside communities, and – as a global first – are launching engineering apprenticeships, giving young people without a degree the opportunity to join Google’s world class software teams.”

The strategy also contains new measures to support Britain’s world leading AI sector which announced previously. A major AI review led by Wendy Hall and Jérôme Pesenti to identify the critical elements for this exciting technology to thrive and grow in the UK. It will consider how Government and industry could work together to back this technology, with the aim of establishing the potential for a possible sector deal. The UK is already a world-leader in the science underpinning this technology and the sector has the potential to grow further, from early research to commercialisation.

A funding boost of £17.3 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to support the development of new robotics and artificial intelligence technologies in universities across the UK.

The strategy also builds on the Government Transformation Strategy, launched earlier in February 2017 by Minister for the Cabinet Office Ben Gummer, which maps out how Government will transform the relationship between the citizen and the state to improve public services. This has ambitions to make it as easy to renew a passport or report a crime as it is to buy a book online, and aims to sign up to 25 million people onto the Government identity service Verify by 2020.

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