We are pioneers and innovators. We have some of the best talent in the world, and when we apply ourselves with focus, we do great things. Think Ada Lovelace, Tim Berners-Lee. If it wasn’t yet on your agenda, this year has already seen ‘digital’ hailed as one of the UK’s most notable future economic drivers. The week before last we heard the government deliver its Digital Strategy, outlining how the opportunities of digital can and should be spread across every region and community in the UK. This digital commitment was reiterated in last week’s Spring Budget, with the government pledging to deliver greater investment in digital skills.
Spring as a setting couldn’t be more fitting. An opportunity for some fresh thinking. The Spring Budget, Digital Strategy and the Industrial Strategy are as much rallying cries for the UK to collaborate to deliver a world leading digital economy as they are strategies in themselves. They are solid steps in the right direction but, on their own, neither provides the complete answer, nor should we expect them to. Rather, this is an opportunity for us to pull together and step up to the mark.
There’s no denying, or perhaps even need to highlight that we’re seeing technological change at a faster rate than ever before. Digital innovation has the potential to reshape markets faster than any transition in history. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a revelation from the digital strategy, but the clear impetus for us to address it in the next three years is. Countries and organisations that do not drive their own digital agenda will be faced with questioning why they have been left behind. Simply put, the UK is in a global race when it comes to building its digital economy, and it cannot afford to lose.
We should see the recent government strategies as a platform to be bold in our ideas; an opportunity to embrace the role that innovative technologies play in shaping our future prosperity. This is a challenge and an opportunity that will only be won if we collaborate – business, UK industry and the government that supports it – across private and public sectors.
Bringing together businesses, local authorities and communications providers to develop specific solutions, the new National 5G Innovation Network and the Business Connectivity Forum are fantastic examples of initiatives that we need to see put in place if we are to build a powerful digital nation. We should be looking to this collaborative approach across all components of our digital economy; from STEM skills and cyber-security awareness to scaling start-ups and effectively managing data.
Collaboration has to extend both geographically and across society too. The first four words in the Digital Strategy are ‘our plan for Britain’, the strategy aspires to ‘develop a world-leading digital economy that works for everyone’ and it is fundamental that this is achieved.
This is something that we’ve taken to hand in recent years. We are invested in hives of activity across the country – looking at where we can positively impact challenges facing the UK. A great example of this is in Manchester, where we are engaged in initiatives that span the needs of businesses, residents and start-ups. Most notably through our investment in a new start-up innovation centre, working with Manchester Science Partnership; as a key partner in the CityVerve smart city initiative and through our newly announced partnership with Transport for Greater Manchester.
Similarly, our focus on skills has taken us beyond what is already a flourishing Networking Academy, providing training for over 170,000 IT professionals in the UK through 305 academies, and now to people in every walk of life and every stage of education or career. We’re working closely with the government to help them deliver on a number of skills initiatives – whether that be Computing for Schools curriculum, reskilling of those in correctional facilities, developing programmes for NEETS (not in education, employment or training) or providing free interactive cyber security training for 16-18 year olds with the Tech Partnership.
Further commitment to skills was outlined in this week’s Spring Budget. Stood at the dispatch box, Chancellor Philip Hammond outlined how the government will invest £250 million over the next 4 years to build the pipeline of high-skilled research talent necessary for a growing and innovative economy.
We know that the need for new and developed skills doesn’t disappear as you enter the workplace, as industries evolve and technology impacts the way we work, let alone the very nature of that work, the skills we require continue to evolve. It isn’t just a case of learning to code either. When we work with start-ups our role is to help them learn to scale and grow, to create connections. When we provide training for our 4,000 partner organisations in the UK, we have to understand what their employees and their business needs. We know that our success comes when we help others achieve their goals – whether that is our employees, partners, customers or the country itself.
We are committed to playing our part in delivering the UK’s digitisation plans. Our digitisation strategy is a long-term commitment to a partnership with UK national leadership, industry and academia to deliver real outcomes faster and more effectively. To this affect, in July 2015 we committed to investing $1 billion to accelerate UK digital economic growth through multiple projects over five years.
I believe our ability to innovate on these shores is what keeps the UK economy alive. In the essence of the Digital Strategy, we must embrace what we’re good at; learn from what we’re not and come together to pioneer an ambitious and bold digital nation. Ultimately, let’s work together. If we are to build a digital economy that ‘works for everyone’, and ensure that we don’t fall behind, then we all must be involved in delivering it.