Prime Minister’s Digital Taskforce targets skills and networks

The Prime Minister’s Digital Taskforce has established a remit around skills, investment, and networks

The first details of the remit of the Prime Minister’s Digital Taskforce have emerged, nearly three months after the initiative was first set up.

Headed by minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude and with Tech City’s Joanna Shields on its advisory panel, the Prime Minister’s Digital Taskforce was set up in July 2014.

But, with just over six months remaining until the general election, so far the taskforce has remained publicly silent, with the Cabinet Office unable or unwilling to comment on its progress, remit, or timelines.

Labour’s Digital Government Review has yet to publish its findings, although Labour Digital – a group of activists backed by shadow business secretary Chuka Umunnah – recently set out a £10bn, five-year plan to make the UK a leading digital economy.

Computer Weekly can now reveal that in the run-up to the general election, the Prime Minister’s Digital Taskforce will be examining three main strands of digital policy.

Ed Vaizey, minister for the digital economy at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and vice-chairman of the Digital Taskforce, said the body’s role was to hammer out policy around skills, technology investment and network infrastructure.

Vaizey said he wanted to build a more coherent picture of the landscape around IT skills.

“We need to bed down this new coding curriculum and ensure we’re giving teachers the right skills to teach it,” he said.

“We need to be clear about which courses work in further and higher education, and we need to work better at getting employers more involved by giving them more opportunity to be involved in education.”

Related to the issue of skills and education will be how to attract more high-tech firms to invest in the UK.

“We will be working with companies that want to invest here as well as providing more opportunities for people that grow companies in the UK,” said Vaizey. “This is stuff that we can make an impact on in the next few months.”

The Digital Taskforce is looking at how to bring together some of the many disparate network infrastructure projects that exist around the public sector domain.

This could include projects such as PSN, the Emergency Services Network, Network Rail’s fibre network, the "Janet" research and education network initiative and so on.

Vaizey said getting large infrastructure projects to collaborate and work together could bring substantial cost savings, and help improve national network coverage.

The possibility of using Network Rail’s fibre-optic network, which stretches for over 18,000km, to supply rural broadband providers, is one possible project that has already been suggested.

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