On 11 March 2020 the new Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled the first budget of the new Government. Along with a fiscal package to help mitigate against the economic and social costs of COVID-19 the budget also contained a large number of announcements for the tech sector.
The Budget set out a series of financial measures to help the UK “lead the world in the industries and technologies of the future”. Here’s a selection of some of the headline announcements relating to data and digital ID that could potentially impact industry:
1. “£16.4 million over the next three years, including £6.8 million for the ONS to make it easier to share more, higher-quality data across government”.
This announcement of funding to facilitate more data sharing across government will be a key enabler for driving deeper insights and better policy decisions. We welcome the government’s emphasis on the need to build greater public trust and confidence when it comes to data sharing across government. A recent survey by ODI found that only 30% of respondents trusted the government to use data about them ethically. Government must make the most of existing resources, such as the DCMS Data Ethics Framework to help address ethical issues, such as transparency and accountability.
For the benefits of data sharing to be felt across the wider economy it is important that, where appropriate, this data is also open and accessible to businesses. Many of the services that are used by citizens, for examples when it comes to social care or education, are provided through collaboration with private sector entities.
2. “To improve social, economic and financial returns from its c.£150 billion of knowledge assets in the public sector.. the government will establish a new unit and fund to develop knowledge assets”.
techUK welcomes the government’s commitment to unlocking more value from knowledge assets to help support UK innovation and productivity. Maximising the use of data that currently exists is of fundamental importance. We’d encourage the new unit to learn from the pockets of government where this has worked well in the past, such as the GOV.UK Registers.
3. Digital Identity Unit – The government will work to create a digital identity market that makes it possible for people to prove things about themselves without showing paper documents.
techUK is fully convinced that the creation of a digital identity market in the UK is an essential element to building the future prosperity of the UK as a digital economy. We are therefore very pleased that our budget ask concerning digital ID has been included. We called for funding for a digital identity unit to enable speedy progress towards the creation of a digital ID market in the UK which spans public and private sectors. This was delivered as part of the budget promises, together with the recognition that digital identities would make opening a bank account, claiming benefits or buying a house simpler, safer and quicker. Also acknowledged is the fact that such a tool is critical to the secure and efficient working of a digital economy.
However, what we now need is a publicly declared strategy, setting out detailed plans and a timeline for the creation of a digital ID ecosystem spanning public and private sectors. We need a response to the Call for Evidence issued by DCMS last July and we need the government to start working with the private sector on standards, governance, access to HMPO and DVLA databases and security and liability policy issues. techUK members are keen to get this work started as soon as possible so that we can move forward and progress the recommendations set out in our White Paper of Feb 2019. We trust the government will publish these specifics as a matter of priority.
4. The government will consult on whether expenditure on data and cloud computing should qualify for R&D tax credits.”
This proposal would give companies, particularly SMEs, an immediate incentive to invest more in data and cloud storage solutions and we will stand ready to respond to a consultation on this area when further information is available.
In conclusion, the Budget 2020 has proposed some good initiatives, particularly in the case of data sharing and digital ID. However, as it currently stands these initiatives are relatively piecemeal and the absence of the UK’s National Data Strategy is evident. If the UK is to continue to grow as a world-leading data economy, a more coordinated, joined-up approach is needed going forward.