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A comprehensive, forward-thinking strategy is needed from the UK government to fully realise the potential of technology to drive economic growth and solve societal challenges, says trade association TechUK.
Prompted by growing concern among its members that politicians are faltering in their ambition and not doing enough to support the sector’s growth, TechUK has published a ‘UK tech plan’ ahead of the next general election in 2024, outlining how tech companies and the government can work better together to reap the benefits of the economy’s increasing digitisation.
Ahead of the plan’s launch, TechUK deputy CEO Antony Walker said during a press conference that the plan was developed through dialogue with large and small tech firms operating in the UK: “Whilst many of them are hugely optimistic about the potential for innovation and growth, and the UK’s fundamental strengths in tech, they are frustrated that the UK has been dropping off the pace in recent years.”
Walker added that “the need to get tech policy right has never been greater” in the face of the global digital economy’s growing complexity, including the increasingly tense geopolitics of technology supply chains and questions around the regulation of artificial intelligence (AI).
“To get that right requires a clear sense of strategic direction, and clarity about what it is you’re trying to achieve,” he said. “As the political parties think about tech, we want them to think about purpose, about what they want to achieve in government, and how technology can help them deliver.”
Noting that technology could also help the UK address a number of the unprecedented challenges it currently faces – from labour shortages and supply chain disruption to turbulent energy markets and the long-term economic effects of Brexit – the plan outlines 18 “major opportunities” that can be seized by a stronger working relationship between the government and the IT sector.
These include “better spending” of the £2.1bn committed to NHS and social care digital transformation, which TechUK said could reduce the pressures on hospitals, boost care in the community and generally move the health care system to being more preventative; as well as further digitising the national grid, which it said would cut the costs of reaching net zero by £17.6bn per year and reduce energy bills.
Other opportunities outlined include improving safety and trust in technology through cross-regulatory sandboxes and data sharing initiatives; developing a system of governance, regulation and ethics for artificial intelligence (AI), so the UK can lead the global debate on AI policy; and reforming the apprenticeship levy alongside creating a new “digital skills toolkit” to support life-long learning, which TechUK added would also “prepare the population for the increased use of automation and AI”.
On AI specifically, Walker said although the government’s AI whitepaper – which outlines its regulatory proposals for creating an agile, “pro-innovation” framework around the technology – is a good starting point, “we believe there are aspects of that approach that now need to be accelerated, such as funding the capacity building in government and the relevant regulators”.
The plan itself noted that, if well supported, the UK tech sector could be adding roughly £200bn per year to the economy by the mid-2020s, up from the $150bn a year it currently adds.
It further noted this support could come in the form of helping small and medium-sized enterprises invest in “productivity-boosting” tech, delivering better digital connectivity across the country, or removing regulatory barriers to unlock investment into key areas like semiconductors, quantum and AI.
“Our message is that we need to move beyond the hype and some of those clichés [around being a science and tech superpower] to really focus in on the delivery of that ambition, and there’s a real sense when we talk to our members that that’s what they’re looking for,” said Walker, adding a “practical focus” is what is needed going forward.
Read more about the UK tech sector
- Tech Nation says UK needs roadmap to help tech sector reach $4tn: In its final report published before shutting for good in April, Tech Nation has outlined success of the UK’s tech sector to date, and explores at a high level what needs to be done to ensure massive future growth.
- UK tech sector given four-point plan to cut carbon emissions by more than 80 million tonnes: According to a report by Tech Nation, leasing renewably powered office space, switching to plant-based food when catering events and curbing business travel would significantly bring down the UK tech sector’s carbon emissions.
- UK tech ecosystem reaches $1tn valuation: The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic prompted massive investment in the UK’s digital companies, which are collectively valued at $1tn.