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Lawmaker Vaizey hails UK role in resolving datacentre sovereignty issues

Digital economy minister talks up government’s work in supporting the growth of the UK’s technology sector

Digital economy minister Ed Vaizey said the government is actively encouraging more overseas technology firms to open UK datacentres to help businesses grappling with data sovereignty issues.

During his keynote speech at the Cloud Expo conference in London in May 2016, Vaizey talked up the work the government had done to support the growth of the UK technology sector since the launch of the Tech City initiative in 2010.

“We made a conscious decision in 2010 that we were going to be a government that engaged very closely with the tech community and a government at the forefront of technology and digital changes,” he said.

During a question and answer session following the keynote speech, Vaizey cited the work the government is doing to address the data sovereignty concerns of UK business (which could stall their take-up of cloud services from overseas providers) as another example of the government’s proactive support for the technology sector.

“The other thing we can do as a government is encourage more datacentres to be built in the UK, something we’re actively working on. It will allow UK businesses to have more opportunities to store their data in the UK,” he said.

Tech City scepticism has gone

Despite admitting to some scepticism in the lead-up to the launch of the East London-based startup hub, Vaizey said the area is now considered a “beacon” for overseas technology firms thinking about expanding their operations to the UK.

“I have to say I was not an early adopter of Tech City, but I have been proved entirely wrong,” he said.

“Tech City has provided a forum for the tech community to have a conversation with government. Given the fast-changing nature of tech, that is important.”

“It’s become shorthand, if you like, to say we’re a tech-friendly government and that the UK is a great place to come and do business if you’re interested in tech.”

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Education’s role in the digital economy

He said the government also has an important and ongoing role to play in removing the regulatory, skills or economic barriers that threaten to derail the growth and prosperity of the UK technology sector.

He referenced the government’s research-led collaboration with the University of Surrey to support the roll-out and development of 5G services, as well as the work being done elsewhere to ensure the hype surrounding the internet of things (IoT) lives up to reality.

“We’ve invested in our skills and we’re one of the first countries in the world to put coding on the school curriculum. We’re now looking hard at further and higher education to make sure the skills students are learning at college and university are relevant to employers,” said Vaizey.  

Data sovereignty worries

“Datacentres are a fast-growing sector of a lot of tech economies, but in terms the law there’s confusion,” said Vaizey.

Vaizey said the European Commission (EC) and US lawmakers should be commended for their efforts in replacing the defunct Safe Harbour data-transfer agreement, before advising firms to consult with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on where best to store their data.

“I think governments, the EU and the US must work more closely to try to harmonise their data protection laws, as data doesn’t know any boundaries in this connected world,” he said.

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