Govt banks on data strategy to drive Covid-19 recovery

parliament_2The Government has pledged to put data at the heart of the country’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, with a new National Data Strategy designed to enable companies and organisations to drive digital transformation, innovate and boost growth across the economy.

The policy, launched by Culture Secretary Oilver Dowden at London Tech Week’s Global Leaders Innovation Summit, is designed will look at how the country can leverage existing UK strengths to boost use of data in business, government and civil society.

It proposes an overhaul in the use of data across the public sector and the Government will launch a programme of work to transform the way data is managed, used and shared internally and with wider public sectors organisations, to create what is claimed to be an ethical, joined up and interoperable data infrastructure.

The strategy lays out five priority missions the Government must take to capitalise on the opportunities data offers, and is a central part of the Conservative’s wider ambition for a thriving, fast-growing digital sector in the UK.

These include plans for a new Government chief data officer to lead a “whole-government” approach to transforming Whitehall’s use of data to drive efficiency and improve public services.

Some 500 analysts will also be trained up in data and data science across the public sector by 2021 through the Data Science Campus at the ONS, the Government Analysis Function, and the Government Digital Service.

In addition, primary legislation will be introduced to boost participation in so-called “smart data” initiatives, which can give people the power to use their own data to find better tariffs in areas such as telecoms, energy and pensions.

Meanwhile, a new £2.6m project is to be launched to address current barriers to data sharing and support innovation to detect online harms.

Finally, the Government is also setting up a scheme which will see up to ten new Innovation Fellowships to support the digital transformation across Whitehall. Successful applicants will have the opportunity to work closely with the No 10 Data Science team, Government Digital Service networks and a peer-group of talent.

According to the Government’s own figures, data-enabled UK service exports were estimated to be £243bn in 2019, or 75 per cent of total service exports. And globally, it is claimed that the UK now sits behind only the US and China in terms of venture capital investment into the technology sector.

A 2019 McKinsey report also found that, internationally, a larger proportion of fast-growing companies use data-driven practices compared to slower-growing companies.

The National Data Strategy commits the Government to develop a clear policy framework to determine what interventions are needed to unlock the value of data across the economy and help propel in the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dowden said: “Our response to the coronavirus has shown just how much we can achieve when we can share high-quality data quickly, efficiently and ethically. I don’t intend to let that lesson go to waste.

“Our new National Data Strategy will maintain the high watermark of data use set during the pandemic – freeing up businesses, government and organisations to innovate, experiment and drive a new era of growth. I am absolutely clear that data and data use are opportunities to be embraced, rather than a threat to be guarded against.

“It aims to make sure British businesses are in a position to make the most of the digital revolution over the years and decades to come, help us use data to improve people’s lives, and position the UK as a global champion of data use.”

Despite widespread criticism of the Government’s handling of the pandemic – and its haphazard record on test and trace – health and local authorities are now using data to monitor the spread of Covid.

It is claimed that the NHS is now able to predict where the system is likely to face strain first, be that on ventilators, beds or staff sickness and make fast interventions to save lives.

Open Data Institute vice-president Dr Jeni Tennison added: “People and organisations of all kinds are facing big challenges over the next few years. Data can help us all to navigate them, increasing our understanding of our changing world and informing the decisions we make.

“Data can also cause harm, for example through over-collection and inappropriate use. At the ODI, we want data to work for everyone, which means ensuring it both gets to the people who need it, and that it is collected, used and shared in trustworthy ways.

“This National Data Strategy consultation is an important opportunity for us all to explore and influence how data should be used to support the UK’s economy, environment and communities, and we look forward to the debate.”

To help shape the final National Data Strategy document, the Government has launched a consultation on the core principles of the strategy, including its ambitions for the use of data across the economy and policy proposals.

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