'Digital skills as crucial to UK as superfast broadband,' says Vaizey

UK digital skills must improve to make most of the economic benefits of superfast broadband, said communications minister Ed Vaizey

Digital skills in the UK must be increased in order to take advantage of the economic benefits of superfast broadband, said communications minister Ed Vaizey.

Speaking at the Huawei Broadband Forum event, Vaizey said: “We need to make sure people have the right skills to take advantage of the uplift in speeds.

 “We need the right environment for innovation and growth to happen,” he said. “This is an opportunity for the UK to establish itself as a centre for innovation and development. Opportunities don’t come along often and we need to grasp the when they happen".

The government aims to provide 90% of homes and businesses with superfast broadband by 2015. However, its plans have come under fire from The House of Lords Communications Committee for being “preoccupied with speed”.

Vaizey's comments follow a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit commissioned by Huawei, which said an increase in digital skills are crucial to the UK’s future economic growth.

“Many of the hoped-for services are already eminently feasible using today’s networks," the report said. "Instead, progress is often blocked by a shortage of suitable digital skills, institutional resistance to change and unreformed processes. Deploying superfast networks will not by itself resolve these problems."

Stephen Unger, Ofcom's chief technology officer (CTO), said in the report:  “If we want to build the next Google, what we need are people with a profound understanding of the mathematics that underpin[search engines, so we need a technologically capable workforce.”

Further challenges for the UK, according to the report, include a culture that does not promote risk-taking and a shortage of venture capital and the associated network of support services, which make it difficult to rapidly scale up a business in the same way that American tech firms can.

Vaizey added that the UK was overdue a comprehensive piece of research into venture capital investment in technology.


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