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New UK digital strategy aims to secure future growth for £150bn digital economy

Government publishes plan that brings together existing and new initiatives intended to expand the digital sector and help to establish the UK as a ‘superpower’ in science and tech

The government has announced a new, wide-ranging digital strategy that aims to help co-ordinate and focus efforts around the £150bn UK digital economy.

Launched by digital secretary Nadine Dorries at London Tech Week, the plan brings together numerous existing initiatives and some new ones, with the aim of delivering on the government’s “vision” to make the UK “the best place in the world to start and grow a technology business”.

The government said the strategy “brings cross-government tech and digital policies together in one unified roadmap for ensuring digital technology, infrastructure and data drives economic growth and innovation in the coming years. The plan will lead to new jobs, skills and services that benefit and level up the whole of the UK”.

The strategy focuses on six key areas, defined as:

Digital foundations – including infrastructure such as broadband, use of data, cyber security and digital regulation.

Ideas and intellectual property – covering the UK’s innovation ecosystem, including universities and the private sector and building on the 2021 Innovation Strategy.

Digital skills – reform and improvement of skills and talent provision for the digital economy, including: strengthening digital education; better awareness of how to get into digital occupations; enhancing the digital skills base; improving access to digital skills; and recruiting global talent.

Financing digital growth – this includes improving access to funding through the British Business Bank and British Patient Capital, supporting startups and building on the success of the UK fintech sector.

Spreading prosperity and levelling up – using digital technologies to support key strategic priorities, such as enhancing productivity, improving public services, levelling up, and achieving net zero.

Enhancing the UK’s place in the world – how the UK will use its “strategic advantage in digital and tech” to influence global decisions in a digital world. This includes maintaining the UK as a science and technology superpower and helping to set global standards on digital products and services.

“The UK’s economic future, jobs, wage levels, prosperity, national security, cost of living, productivity, ability to compete globally and our geo-political standing in the world are all reliant on continued and growing success in digital technology,” said Chris Philp, minister for tech and the digital economy at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

“The Digital Strategy sets out [our] vision and the actions required to deliver it. Estimates commissioned by the government suggest that our approach to supporting and strengthening the digital economy could grow the UK tech sector’s annual gross value added (GVA) by an additional £41.5bn by 2025, and create a further 678,000 jobs.”

The strategy covers almost every aspect of the government’s reach across the digital economy, from broadband to cyber security, startups to digital skills, sustainability to supercomputers.

One of the new initiatives announced was a Future of Compute Review, to be led by Professor Zoubin Ghahramani, Professor of Information Engineering at the University of Cambridge and vice president of research at Google AI and director of Google Brain. The review will assess the UK's needs over the next decade in advanced computing, such as quantum, supercomputers and cloud.

"The UK’s ability to do the hardest science, and help businesses be even more competitive, depends on more powerful computers. Advanced compute helps us model incredibly complex systems, such as what’s happening to the climate and how to stop the spread of pandemics," said Ghahramani.

"Advanced compute is fundamental to the UK’s national interest. This review will deliver a long term plan for UK compute, enabling government, business and academia to remain at the forefront of innovation and be prepared to fight the biggest challenges of this century."

The overall digital plan also documents a series of more than 100 individual actions and targets – many of which have been previously announced – intended to underpin the roll-out of the strategy. These include, for example:

  • By 2025, at least 85% coverage nationwide of gigabit broadband through the Project Gigabit programme, increasing to at least 99% gigabit coverage by 2030.
  • By 2025, expanded mobile network coverage to 95% of the UK through the Shared Rural Network.
  • Increase R&D investment to £20bn a year by 2024/25.
  • Launch the Digital Skills Council, to set an “ambitious agenda” to tackle the digital skills needed for the workforce of the future.
  • Increase artificial intelligence (AI) adoption in sectors located outside London and the South-East.
  • Providing £315m of funding to support sustainable transitions in industry, including in the datacentre sector.
  • Use the G7 as a forum to champion open society principles in tech.

“The UK Digital Strategy is a roadmap we will follow to strengthen our global position as a science and tech superpower,” said Philp. “Our future prosperity and place in the world depends upon it.”

More legislation is due in the coming months to further the government’s aims in specific areas, such as reforms of data protection laws, a plan for the UK semiconductor industry, and regulating AI.

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