Data sharing: How can we make sure the UK is a world leader?

The UK government risks missing out on the benefits and opportunities laid out in its National Data Strategy – and could lose international competitiveness as a result

Ensuring that both personal and industrial data can flow responsibly across the entire economy is vital for achieving the ambitions of the National Data Strategy. Facilitating greater private sector data sharing has been one of the strategy’s key priorities, highlighted by the introduction of primary legislation for smart data schemes in the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill.

The benefits of data sharing are already well known – data underpins our ability to drive research, develop innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence, develop better services for citizens such as more resilient healthcare services, smarter cities, and solutions to make our environment greener.

Research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggests that data access and sharing can create 20 to 50 times more value for the wider economy, and help to generate social and economic benefits worth between 1% and 2.5% of GDP.

However, the challenge is that data sharing is incredibly complex, and the right data governance framework, market environment and culture of trust needs to underpin it. Creating these conditions is difficult, but failing to act risks the UK falling behind internationally.

Jurisdictions around the world face similar challenges, but many are beginning to show similar – if not grander – levels of ambition to the UK by making big inroads in this space, such as investing significantly in new data architectures or introducing new legislation.

How do we get ahead on the right track?

In TechUK’s recent whitepaper, Data sharing: Getting the UK back on the right track, we set out seven key recommendations for government to prioritise as it continues to implement the National Data Strategy:

  1. Step up work to facilitate voluntary, trusted and responsible avenues for private and third-sector data sharing, including delivering on the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) smart data workstream and Mission 1 of the National Data Strategy.
  2. Ensure that ethical considerations underpin the sharing of data, particularly personal data, through the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation.
  3. Deliver a more joined-up National Data Strategy by offering greater visibility on the execution of Mission 3 and opportunities for industry engagement, such as better leveraging the NDS Forum.
  4. Outline a clear plan for the continued opening up of government and public sector datasets, with the aim of moving towards near real-time reporting of data and consult with industry to understand which datasets could unlock the most value.
  5. Collaborate with industry to understand challenges related to data quality and develop a set of industry-driven standards to address these barriers by working with organisations such as the British Standards Institution.
  6. Invest in sufficient resources to map regional data ecosystems and set realistic benchmarks for the gathering of local government data. Government must set a minimum benchmark for the gathering of local government data – rather than a ceiling – to ensure that no region is left behind.
  7. Narrow the data skills gap and combat skills shortages by investing in training, upskilling and reskilling of the UK’s workforce, including expanding the coverage of the Help to Grow: Digital scheme, supporting SMEs to invest in digital reskilling through a digital skills tax credit, and continuing to reform the apprenticeship levy.

With the government pressing ahead with plans to reform its data protection regime, TechUK looks forward to working with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s National Data Strategy implementation team with a similar level of enthusiasm to deliver greater data sharing across the entire UK economy and society. 

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