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The new government will be “unashamedly” pro-technology to ensure an ongoing focus on digital innovation in the UK, according to Nicky Morgan, secretary of state for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
Speaking at the launch of industry collaborative Tech Talent Charter’s annual report, of which DCMS is a backer, Morgan said one of the government’s five ways to ensure a tech-driven “thriving” economy will be to focus on a pro-technology approach.
The other ways the government plans to focus on tech include ensuring a free and open internet, protecting the vulnerable and ensuring safety and security, pro-innovation regulation, and sharing the benefits of tech more widely and fairly.
Morgan said: “The first principle is that we will be an unashamedly pro-technology government in all that we do, because we believe that, harnessed properly, technology is an immense force for good.”
Pointing out that digital innovation drives “opportunity, productivity and creativity”, Morgan said the government will put technology first in order to maintain the current position of the UK’s tech landscape and technology’s involvement in society in the future.
Citing possible benefits of tech, such as better public services and a better relationship between government and the public, Morgan said: “The opportunities here are vast. As we expand our trading relations around the globe, I can assure you that we are passionate about the opportunities provided by digital tech – and that they will be at the heart of the government’s trade policy in the years ahead.”
Many factors can play a part in whether people are fully able to use technology, including age, education, socio-economic background and location. Many people in the UK do not have the digital skills to perform basic tasks, while others don’t have access to the internet.
Morgan said one of the government’s focuses will be to ensure “the benefits of technology are spread more widely and shared more fairly”.
Highlighting some of the UK’s tech accomplishments, Morgan said there are currently two million people in digital roles across the region, the UK is producing twice as many unicorn companies as Germany and three times as many as France, and in 2019, venture capital investment in UK tech exceeded £10bn.
But many people across the UK are still not seeing the benefit of digital technology, such as those in rural areas.
Morgan said the government would work to rectify this through physical infrastructure such as broadband and 5G, developing competitive digital markets and digital skills, and focusing on developing technology “clusters” outside the London “bubble”.
“We can only truly view the digital revolution as a success if its positive forces – the jobs, the investment and the creative opportunities – are used to break down barriers, rather than to entrench them,” she said. “That means ensuring that all people and all businesses have the tools they need to adopt and benefit from digital technologies – the connectivity, the capability and the confidence.”
Turning to infrastructure, Morgan said the government will pass legislation to ease the roll-out of full-fibre, gigabit-capable broadband across the UK by 2025, and will soon announce the winners of a £30m competition to help the countryside adopt 5G.
But as well as a lack of basic digital skills across the UK, there is also a talent gap.
The UK introduced a new computing curriculum in 2014 in a bid to teach children the technology skills they might need in the world of work, but Morgan pointed out that it “isn’t just about classrooms” and the economy as a whole needs people with more digital skills.
As well as the government investing £3bn in the National Skills Fund over the course of this parliament, Morgan said it would introduce an entitlement to allow adults to gain basic digital skills qualifications for free.
“If we get this right, we will not only have a more highly skilled economy, but also one that is more representative of the country we live in,” she said.
Morgan said she hoped the right kind of regulation will help technology to grow and thrive in the UK in the same way as it has encouraged other areas to thrive in the past, such as science, research and innovation.
Proper regulation gives innovators and investors “confidence and certainty”, and helps “build trust among customers”, said Morgan, adding: “This, in turn, increases demand for digital products and services.”
Part of the government’s pro-technology regulation to encourage this includes developing a “joined-up approach” for regulating and governing digital tech by working with industry and across sectors, said Morgan.
Areas for focus in the development of pro-tech regulation include ethical online advertising, developing the UK’s National Data Strategy and working on a response to the Cairncross Review into journalism in the digital age, she said.
“Critically, we will work to make sure our approach to digital governance and regulation is coherent and is able to adapt as technologies evolve,” she added.
Ensuring safety for everyone in online spaces, such as younger people, as well as ensuring businesses are safe from cyber attacks, will be a focus for the government in the future, said Morgan.
The government has set out new plans for “statutory duty of care” and a “media literacy strategy” as part of its Online Harms whitepaper to make the first steps in helping people stay safe online, as well as investing £1.9bn in the UK’s National Cyber Security Strategy, which is helping the government to develop a public cyber security campaign, said the minister.
But “top down” is not enough, said Morgan – everyone should learn to adapt as technology grows and changes.
A “big priority” for DCMS is promoting the sustainability of high-quality journalism and public broadcasting in order to properly educate people and “combat the corrosive effects of disinformation and extremism which threaten our democracy and civil society”, she said.
Finally, Morgan said a “free and open internet” is a priority for the government, which will continue to support the current “multi-stakeholder model of internet governance” and oppose other governments that aim to bring the internet under government control.
Emphasising that these five principles cannot stand in silos, Morgan said: “They are all deeply connected – the infrastructure, the investment, the policy and regulatory environment, the skills and the security. We need each and every one of these if we are going to harness technology in a way that works for us all.”