The government has unveiled its long-awaited digital strategy with digital skills, connectivity and cyber security at the heart of its plans to ensure the UK can embrace the benefits of digital transformation.
The plan was released by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and presented by culture secretary Karen Bradley in a speech at the offices of startup hub Entrepreneur First.
"Digital technology is revolutionising all aspects of our lives, whether healthcare, transport, manufacturing, entertainment, or our connections with family and friends," she said.
Given this, the government is keen to ensure current workers can gain the skills necessary to capitalise on this situation, with digital training at the heart of the strategy. To help with this, several major firms have promised to offer free training to individuals of all ages on digital skills.
- Lloyds Banking Group promising to offer face-to-face digital skills training to 2.5 million individuals, charities and small and medium businesses by 2020
- Barclays will teach basic coding to 45,000 more children and assist up to one million people with general digital skills and cyber awareness
- Google will offer five hours of free digital skills for everyone, with a specific focus to boost digital skills in seaside towns.
Bradley said that the government was also confident that moves to add coding to the national teaching curriculum would help ensure future generations had the skills they needed too.
"Coding is being put in the National Curriculum - and we are taking forward the recommendations of the Shadbolt Review into computer science degrees - so that younger and future generations will have the specialist skills they need to take full advantage of digital," she said.
Bradley also said the government was keen to ensure that firms employing EU nationals could ensure their future employment was secure as the move towards Brexit continues.
"We also recognise that digital businesses are concerned about the future status of their current staff who are EU nationals. Securing the status of, and providing certainty to, EU nationals already in the UK and to UK nationals in the EU is one of this government's early priorities for the forthcoming negotiations."
However, until legal assurances are secured for this, many firms will remain wary of the future, especially if they rely on skilled EU workers for key positions in their company.
Another major component of the Digital Strategy put forward relates to connectivity and ensuring high-speed connections - both fixed and mobile - are available to UK citizens and businesses.
"We will invest £1 billion in a programme to explore and encourage next generation digital infrastructure, including full fibre and 5G," said Bradley.
It should be noted, though, this is not new money, but a confirmation of the funding announced in the Autumn Statement last year.
The strategy also touts the importance of making sure the UK is a secure environment in which digital businesses can thrive, noting that the recently opened National Cyber Security Centre will help coordinate response to threats and provide assurances the UK is a safe place to do business.
Complementing this, the government also said it wants to do more to help ensure start-ups can thrive in the UK, especially in new areas such as FinTech, artificial intelligence and robotics, and has commissioned a study into ensuring the AI industry has the frameworks in place to grow.
Professor Wendy Hall from academia and Jerome Pesenti from Benevolent AI have been appointed to write the study, Bradley confirmed.
In order to try and ensure the UK remains a player on the international stage too, the government will create five new international tech hubs in emerging markets to help UK firms build relationships in other nations.
These will be based on the existing UK-Israel Tech Hub, that the government said has so far helped facilitate over 80 partnerships between firms in the two nations, securing deals worth £62m. The government has not confirmed where these locations will be yet.
The other core components of the Digital Strategy focus on encouraging more businesses to embrace digital tools, ensuring the government itself remains at the forefront of providing digital services and ensuring data security guidance is up-to-date.
"To maintain our position at the forefront of the data revolution, we will implement the EU General Data Protection Regulation in time for the May 2018 deadline," added Bradley.
Josh Hardie, CBI deputy director-general, said the positions outlined by the UK government were to be welcomed, given how important digital skills are to the UK's future.
"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," he said.
Gerard Grech, chief executive, Tech City UK, also welcomed the report, saying it was the right set of moves to be taking as technology becomes the lifeblood of businesses of all types.
"In the UK tech sector jobs are being created at twice the rate of the wider economy, and today's Digital Strategy provides an ambitious road map for the industry to continue growing at this rate and building a new economy fit for the future."
The chief operating officer of O2, Derek McManus, also said that the focus on digital skills was vital for the UK's future.
"This combined effort will ensure people and businesses across Britain have access to the connectivity they need to generate jobs, boost growth and maintain the UK's global competitiveness."
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