Patryk Kosmider - stock.adobe.co
2017 was a big year for the UK’s digital and tech industry. For a start, and contrary to lots of fears at the start of the year, the tech industry has real momentum.
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Facebook opened a new office in London in December, and said it would create 800 new jobs over the next year. Google unveiled plans for a £1bn London headquarters so big that it is longer in length than the Shard is high. Amazon opened a centre in Cambridge dedicated to research for products, and announced 1,000 new jobs in Bristol.
As well as the world’s biggest tech firms giving our digital economy a vote of confidence, tech investors ploughed in more than £20bn in investment, thanks in part to our world-class research base and competitive tax regimes. No wonder Cisco named the UK the best place in Europe to scale a business and the digital sector is creating jobs twice as fast as the rest of the economy.
In government, we’ve worked tirelessly to support this booming sector, and laid out two vital strategies to cement the progress.
We published our ground-breaking digital strategy in March, and set out how we intend to make the UK the best place to start and grow a digital business. We are already delivering on those aims.
In November, we published our industrial strategy, with commitments to boost spending on the infrastructure of the future, spreading 5G digital connectivity right across the country, raising investment in research and development, and improving skills by investing in maths, digital and technical education.
The prime minister, chancellor, secretary of state for digital and myself welcomed leading entrepreneurs and innovators from across the country’s tech industry to Downing Street, where we confirmed a £21m investment in Tech Nation to establish regional hubs throughout the country.
“For the UK to remain world-leading in the digital sphere, digital skills need to be available to everyone”
Matt Hancock, digital minister
This means those already doing great work in areas including Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and Cardiff will get access to Tech City’s training, mentoring and development programmes.
The strength of our digital sector lies in the skilled people working within it. For the UK to remain world-leading in this sphere, digital skills need to be available to everyone. So we announced £84m to boost the skills of 8,000 computer science teachers to make sure every secondary school has a qualified computer science teacher by 2022.
Our £20m Cyber Discovery programme, announced in March, will inspire the next generation to consider a career in cyber security by testing their technology skills in fun online challenges and bringing on those with the highest aptitude.
Outside the classroom, the Digital Skills Partnership has been launched to bring together public, private and charity sector organisations to boost skills for a world-leading digital economy. Our private sector partners have already delivered more than two million free digital skills training opportunities, with a further two million pledged.
There’s still a gender imbalance in our tech sector, with women under-represented. I say, “You can’t catch all the fish if you only fish in half the pool”, and if we want Britain’s tech industry to prosper we should be using the talents of the whole nation. I set out our support for initiatives such as the Tech Talent Charter in November so we can see equal opportunities for men and women in one of the fastest growing areas of life.
As well as developing home-grown talent, we want to attract the best people from around the world. We confirmed we’re doubling to 2,000 the number of Exceptional Talent visas for the brightest and best global talent, including in digital technology. We’ll also make it quicker for highly skilled students to apply to work in the UK after finishing degrees here.
This is all about making our workforce ready for the opportunities presented by Brexit, and there are welcome signs we are ahead of the curve.
December saw Oxford Insights publish its analysis of how ready countries are for artificial intelligence (AI) implementation and, pleasingly, the UK topped the poll, ahead of even China and the US. We want to maintain this lead, which is why in 2018 we will create a Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, begin to roll out up to 200 new AI PhDs and fellowships, and will unveil our AI Council. This will give businesses the confidence and skills to invest and grow their AI enterprises here in the UK.
An important part of the digital strategy is to make the UK the safest place to be online. So in 2017 we launched our National Cyber Security Centre, published our internet safety strategy, and are working with the social media platforms to tackle online harms. After all, supporting the great freedoms of the internet means protecting the freedom of others.
And of course the most cutting-edge technology needs the best infrastructure to thrive. We want to make sure all homes and businesses in the UK have access to high-speed broadband within the next three years.
As part of our ongoing investment in digital connectivity, we are releasing £350m to develop full fibre and 5G in addition to more than £1bn promised in the Budget. And we’re hitting the milestone of connecting 95% of all homes and businesses having access to superfast broadband by 2017, and introducing a legal right for everyone to get high-speed broadband by 2020 – completing the final 5%.
As well as completing the roll-out of current technologies, we’ve got going on the next generation. Make no mistake, the future is full fibre and it is vital to our continued success we keep pace with the rapid evolution of technology.
We have set up a Barrier Busting Taskforce across government, and this will get to work on reducing the costs of streetworks, liberalising planning, and tackling every and any other barrier to roll-out. We have also recently fired the starting gun on an ambitious plan that could see train passengers benefit from a dramatic improvement in onboard mobile and Wi-Fi connections.
There’s still more to do, but we are well on the road to delivering a prosperous, strong and secure nation. All this investment will help us deliver the big ambitions we set out in our digital and industrial strategies, and build a Britain fit for the future.
Read more about government digital policy
- UK must ‘embrace technological change’, says prime minister Theresa May.
- The chancellor just placed tech at the heart of solving Britain’s productivity crisis.
- Dear digital minister, a little more clarity – anything, really – on Brexit, please.