Is government finally realising IT's true value?

It’s been a week of economic doom and gloom for the UK, after Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne revealed the parlous state of the country’s finances in his Autumn Statement.

Putting aside the obvious insecurities that such news brings to everyone in the UK, there must be an underlying frustration among the IT community every time we hear about our national troubles.

For so many years, IT leaders have been telling government that the future lies in a technology-oriented economy – with the companies, skills and innovations of the UK’s creatives and technicians harnessed to generate international competitiveness.
It seems that only now, as we approach potentially another recession and another credit crunch, that the government has been forced to acknowledge the role that IT can play – or perhaps it has simply run out of other ideas.

Osborne’s announcement of an extra £100m to support superfast broadband roll-out is welcomed, putting our telecoms networks alongside road, rail and construction as vital elements of national infrastructure.

The smaller, but not insignificant, gift of £10m to set up the Open Data Institute under Sir Tim Berners-Lee could one day provide the sort of return on investment that only technology can deliver. Some estimates suggest that releasing public data could create a market worth £16bn as software developers produce new applications using the raw information of public services.

Furthermore, the new national cyber security strategy shows how the £650m committed to the plan may be spent. And then we had the acknowledgement that IT education in schools needs a radical shake-up to ensure the next generation has the technology skills that the UK will so desperately need in future.

Admittedly, even these welcome announcements hardly add up to a strategic economic shift, but they are an indication at least of a direction of travel that the country needs to take.

There are few people, surely, who would disagree that technology, innovation and IT skills will be fundamental to making the UK a global leader in the post-recessionary world. We just hope that a few key people in government seriously do something to let it happen.

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