Patryk Kosmider - stock.adobe.co
The UK’s new prime minister Boris Johnson has overhauled all the key ministerial roles involved with the technology sector in his first set of Cabinet appointments.
At the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), former secretary of state Jeremy Wright has been sacked only a year after his appointment. His replacement is Nicky Morgan, most recently a backbencher and chair of the HM Treasury select committee, and previously secretary of state for education.
Recently, Morgan has been co-chair of the Alternative Arrangements Commission, which produced a report looking at ways to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit, which included the scope for technological solutions.
When Wright was appointed, he had no background in digital issues, but has worked with the industry and led on a number of policies to boost full-fibre broadband roll-out, 5G networking and digital skills. The DCMS role also oversees policy on tech startups.
During his campaign to become leader of the Conservative Party, Johnson promised to deliver full-fibre broadband across the UK by 2025, ahead of the current target of 2033 – currently only 7% of the country has full-fibre, or fibre to the premises (FTTP), according to telecoms watchdog Ofcom. Morgan is likely to be charged with turning that un-costed campaign commitment into policy.
Margot James, digital minister at DCMS, resigned last week, and her replacement has yet to be announced.
At the Cabinet Office, Oliver Dowden has been promoted from his junior role as minister for implementation – where he was in charge of digital government – to Cabinet Office minister. Dowden has been a supporter of the Government Digital Service (GDS) and his elevation to a Cabinet role could bring a boost for GDS with a new spending review expected during this financial year, to set budgets for the next three years.
Andrea Leadsom has taken over as secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, replacing Greg Clark, who jointly led policy on support for the UK’s artificial intelligence sector, as well as the digital aspects of the industrial strategy.
Matt Hancock remains as secretary of state for health and social care, where he is pushing for a major digital overhaul of the NHS, and recently established a new organisation, NHSX, to run technology policy across the sector.
Industry trade body TechUK has called on Johnson to prioritise digital policy, and to avoid what it believes would be a catastrophic no-deal Brexit.
“TechUK’s members have repeatedly warned of the damaging impact that a no-deal Brexit would have on their business and we would urge Boris Johnson to put all the talent and resources at his disposal to the task of avoiding this outcome,” said TechUK CEO Julian David.
“Digital innovation is driving a fourth industrial revolution that holds huge opportunities for the UK to increase its productivity and create the high-skill, high-wage economy the Prime Minister aspires to. Technology also holds the key to solving some of the greatest challenges we are facing, from an ageing society to the climate emergency. The new Prime Minister should put digital at the heart of his government to turbocharge the economy, transform public services and drive sustainability.”