UK Govt digital strategy ‘to cement superpower status’

parliament newThe Government has unveiled its new plan to build the economy and create more high-skilled, high wage jobs by cementing the UK as a global tech superpower, claiming the new strategy will build on the UK’s position as Europe’s leading destination for starting and growing digital businesses.

Marking the start of London Tech Week, the new UK Digital Strategy launched today brings cross-government tech and digital policies together in one “roadmap” for ensuring digital technology, infrastructure and data drives economic growth and innovation in the coming years.

The plan will lead to new jobs, skills and services that benefit and level up the whole of the UK, ministers claim.

It includes bringing tech leaders together in a new Digital Skills Council to tackle the skills gap and a review of the UK’s large-scale computer processing capabilities, for powering technologies of the future such as artificial intelligence.

New figures released today show more than £12bn in venture capital funding has been secured by UK tech start-ups and scale-ups so far this year, which is more than the whole of 2020. It puts the UK just behind the US and ahead of China on funding secured by tech start-up firms in the year to date.

Since the Government launched its first Digital Strategy in 2017 the UK tech sector has boomed – growing over two and a half times faster than the economy as a whole – although quite how much this is due to the Governments not so clear.

Last year a new tech unicorn – private companies valued at $1 billion – was created every eleven days, more than doubling the number of UK unicorns from 2017. As Europe’s leading digital hub, the UK tech sector raised more private capital and saw more public listings than any EU country in 2021.

Ministers insist the new strategy will build on these successes to grow a more innovative, inclusive and competitive digital economy which generates more highly skilled jobs and better choice for consumers across the UK.

The Government suggests its approach to supporting and strengthening the digital economy could boost the UK tech sector’s annual GVA by an additional £41.5bn by 2025, and create a further 678,000 jobs.

Digital Minister Chris Philp said: “Developed economies face long-term challenges around growth, productivity and real wages. Just as Margaret Thatcher unleashed the power of the market to transform our economy in the 1980s, unleashing the power of the tech sector will transform our economy today.

“In the last five years the UK has raced ahead of Europe to become a global tech leader and now we’re setting the course for the future. The Digital Strategy is the roadmap we will follow to strengthen our global position as a science and technology superpower. Our future prosperity and place in the world depends on it.”

The plan cements the Government’s ambitions across the six areas it believes are essential for sustained digital growth:

Infrastructure – Rolling out world-class digital infrastructure and a light-touch, pro-growth regulatory regime that protects citizens while encouraging both investment and innovation.

Ideas and intellectual property – Stimulating innovation through research and development and growing the UK’s expertise in technologies of the future, including artificial intelligence, semiconductors and quantum computing.

Skills and talent – Strengthening the tech talent pipeline with digital skills the economy needs at every stage from school to lifelong learning and a comprehensive suite of visas to attract the brightest minds from around the world.

Financing digital growth – Encouraging UK capital including pension funds to be invested in British scale-ups to support long term growth and leading support for innovation through Innovate UK and the British Business Bank.

A nationwide approach – Helping businesses in every region take up the latest technologies and spread the benefits of a strong digital economy across the country.

Global leadership – Collaborating on international digital trade and tech governance systems centred around freedom and openness.

Ministers have also pledged action on the digital skills gap, estimated to be costing the UK economy as much as £63bn a year in potential GDP, even though it seems many UK firms are in denial of the issue.

Over 80% of all jobs advertised in the UK now require digital skills, however employers say the lack of available talent is the single biggest factor holding back growth.

As part of the Government’s ambition to tackle the gap at all levels, a new Digital Skills Council will bring together industry leaders and training experts from Starling, Amazon Web Services and Multiverse.

Working directly with employers, the council will encourage investment in employer-led training to upskill workforces.

The council – chaired by Digital Minister Chris Philp and Phil Smith, chairman of British semiconductor firm IQE Plc – will look at the issue of digital skills from schools through to lifelong learning. The group will also look at ways the industry can inspire the next generation of talent from a wide range of backgrounds to consider a digital career.

By helping more people access interesting, sustainable, well-paid jobs through a variety of routes, the Government claims plans for digital careers will unlock the potential of British businesses and grow the economy by billions of pounds.

The Office for Students has also been announced today as the provider for up to 2,000 scholarships funded by the Government to ensure the UK has the advanced digital skills it needs to maintain the country’s leading position in cutting-edge AI and data science. The Office for Students will allocate up to £23m to universities to fund scholarships starting in 2023. Funding will be available for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds as well as black, women and disabled students to ensure the AI built and used in the UK reflects the make-up of our society.

Ministers maintain that organisations across the country can play their part in boosting the future AI talent pipeline by match-funding scholarships for the AI and Data Science conversion courses with further information on the Office for Students website.

CBI director of innovation Naomi Weir said:”We’re glad the Government has heard our calls for a single vision for the digital economy, and the importance of streamlined regulation that supports investment and innovation.

“At a time when the country is facing fierce headwinds, in the form of inflation and supply chain challenges, unleashing investment is more crucial than ever. The digital sector is a bright spot in our economy, and an area where we’re punching above our weight internationally.

“We can’t waste a moment in bringing this strategy to life, with action required on skills, regulation, cutting-edge tech adoption, and championing the role of digital trade. Business and the CBI stand ready to work with government to make it happen.”

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