techUK Policy Pulse | Your weekly update on digital and tech policy

After last week’s email, you’ll be pleased to know that Twitter has chosen to finally suspend Alex Jones for seven days after realising that he had in fact broken their Terms of Use. A ridiculous, angry and often deeply vicious person, Vinous is also away.

I’m Giles, and welcome to this week’s Policy Pulse.

There was once a time when August meant a lull in political news, but not this year. We have had the latest installment of the Wreath Lectures with Jeremy Corbyn (I was always told it’s the taking part that counts), Jeremy Hunt leading a diplomatic charm offensive in Europe (and getting some surprisingly positive reactions), and Chris Grayling opening up a new row about rail fares just hours before new inflation figures were announced. Who knows why his comments were so delayed, but it’s possible they were stuck on the 7.14 from Brighton.

Meanwhile, the Chancellor has called for an Amazon Tax. He found support from the Conservative Queen in the North, Ruth Davidson. It turns out that this is not new, but a repeat of the proposals set out here for a tax on digital companies. Quite how targeting innovative and productive businesses will help those high street firms struggling with a broken business rates system is, as yet, unclear.

Speaking of unclear, Google’s DeepMind might be able to help. A trial at Moorfields Eye Hospital of new diagnostic AI found that the tech was able to diagnose 50 types of eye disease with 94 per cent accuracy and didn’t miss a single case in which urgent referral was needed. Clinical trials are being planned for next year and, if rolled out, could reduce ‘bottlenecks’ in diagnosis and speed up referrals, which can prevent site loss.

One area where bottlenecks show no sign of going away is the immigration system. This week, it’s been reported that the Government plans to deal with applications by EU citizens to remain in the UK post Brexit in alphabetical order. The Government says that a process is needed to prevent 3 million applications flooding in to the Home Office all at once. While the proposal makes more sense than the rejected idea of registering by employment sector, it does probably put paid to any hopes of Zinedine Zidane becoming a Premier League manager any time soon (sorry, Man United fans).


techUK news and events

It’s not just Settled Status for EU citizens that is under the spotlight. At the end of last week, the Confederation of British Industry Confederation of British Industry published their report on what the migration system should look like after Brexit. techUK contributed to the report and yours truly did the rounds of TV studios making the case for a flexible system to ensure the sector gets the skills it needs.

Not to be outdone, Migration Watch published their own report calling for existing routes to be tightened even further, including the use of inter-company transfer which they claimed undercut UK workers. You can read techUK’s rebuttal here, pointing out that with more vacancies last year than any other part of the economy, the sector needs all the skills we can get.

Of course, it’s not just the migration system we need to figure out after Brexit. Last Friday, techUK CEO Julian David was in the Times Red Box explaining why a no deal Brexit would be a very bad deal indeed for the UK tech sector. He described it as pulling the handbrake when going 70 miles an hour on the motorway. Something that Mission Impossible 5 fans will attest should only be attempted by Tom Cruise.

Looking ahead, techUK is pleased to announce our Party Conference programme ahead of Conference Season kicking off in September. We will be hosting a number of events with members and be joined by Ministers, MPs and thought leaders in both Liverpool and Birmingham at the Labour and Conservative Conferences respectively. For more information on our programme, please contact Ben Bradley at ben.bradley@techuk.org.

And finally this week, news of an exciting new collaboration between some of the world’s largest tech companies. Google, Facebook and Microsoft, among others, have launched a new standards initiative called the ‘Data Transfer Project’ that will aim to make it easier for data to move between services without having to be downloaded and re-uploaded. The project has been badged ‘the future of portability’ and it is hoped more companies will sign on to the standards, helping smooth data transfers across a range of services. Let’s just hope Jacob Rees-Mogg doesn’t demand they abandon any mutually agreed standards and let the WTO handle it instead.

That’s your lot for this week. Vinous is back next week so please send hints, tips and comments about how she definitely isn’t funnier than me to vinous.ali@techuk.org. I’m on giles.derrington@techuk.org if anything comes up in the meantime.

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