The 2021 Queen’s Speech, what was in it for the tech sector?
Following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic the 2021 Queen’s Speech was the opportunity for the Government to hit the reset button on its legislative agenda and deliver on the manifesto pledges set out at the 2019 General Election.
To do this the 2021 Queen’s Speech aimed at setting out the legislation that is needed to support the UK’s national recovery from the pandemic, aiming to make the “United Kingdom stronger, healthier and more prosperous than before”. To achieve this, the Government set out its key objectives as to level up opportunities across all parts of the United Kingdom, support jobs, businesses and economic growth and address the impact of the pandemic on public services.
31 Bills were announced in the speech, below techUK provides a rundown of the important Bills for the tech sector, including those which have been carried over from the last Parliamentary session, new legislation announced during the Speech and key things that were missing that we might hear more about in the coming weeks and months.
Bills carried over from the last Parliamentary Session:
Telecommunications (Security) Bill: carried over from the last Parliament this Bill aims to give the Government new powers to boost the security standards of the UK’s telecoms networks. techUK has been engaging with the Government on this Bill and will continue to work with the Government and Parliament as the Bill is finished in the new Parliamentary session. You can see techUK’s comment on the Bill when it was first published here.
Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill: techUK supports the Government’s aim to create an Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA), a new statutory corporation to fund high-risk, high-reward R&D. The agency will be backed by £800 million of public funds and be able to work with universities and private companies on high-risk, high reward research projects. You can read techUK’s perspective on ARIA here.
The Online Safety Bill: the UK’s Online Safety Bill will be one of the first major attempts to regulate user generated content online. This is a global issue and as this Bill is introduced the world’s eyes will be on the UK. The tech sector and the Government are aiming for the same outcome, how to make the UK the safest place to be online while protecting free speech.
To do this Parliament needs to legislate, but the tech sector needs to put that into action. Designing a system to protect children and society online in practice as well as on paper means working with the industry to ensure there are clear legal definitions of what constitutes harmful online content, setting out the responsibilities that companies of different sizes have to observe and establishing clear codes of practice.
Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill: the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill aims to do two things: ensure that digital products and devices are cyber secure; and accelerate the deployment of digital infrastructure including 5G and gigabit broadband.
Cyber security is a top priority for tech businesses. To get this legislation right the Government must continue to engage with industry on the key technical standards, how security can be kept up to date as future threats emerge and ensure the regulatory framework is workable and proportionate. The UK must also ensure that our approach is compatible with our partners and allies to prevent risks to supply chains and the availability of the latest products.
The Bill must also ensure telecoms operators are supported as they rollout 5G and gigabit-capable broadband faster and more efficiently. Reforms to the Electronic Communications Code are welcome, particularly the focus on sharing and re-using existing infrastructure. The changes should support all operators in telecoms sector (mobile and fixed) — and distinguish between rural and urban environments, to ensure all UK consumers benefit from the rollout of next generation of connectivity.
Skills and Post-16 Education Bill: the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill takes a significant step forward by aiming to create a Lifetime Skills Guarantee, with flexible funding available to adults for up to four years of Higher or Further Education across their lifetime. The Bill will also aim to bring employers into the post-16 skills system through Skills Accelerators allowing them to work alongside educators to deliver local skills plans.
Flexible funding for post-16 education and bringing employers into the design of publicly funded training programmes has been a key ask of the tech sector. Working together we need to open-up more accessible pathways to enable people from diverse backgrounds to access in-demand tech jobs. Next month techUK will launch a new report examining the state of play of adult education and digital skills training and will set out recommendations to Government to support learners, and employers, and to deliver change at scale.
Procurement Bill: the Procurement Bill will aim to reform the UK’s public procurement regime over the current regime which was largely transposed from EU procurement directives.
The Government has said it wants to make public procurement more accessible for new entrants such as small businesses and voluntary, charitable and social enterprises to compete for and win public contracts and will allow the Government to consider wider social value when picking suppliers so that taxpayers’ money goes further and has more of a wider benefit for society including the creation of new jobs and skills to drive economic growth.
Improving the procurement system is seen as a key ask of many of techUK’s members who want to see the Government aim to use procurement strategically to support the growth of innovative companies and the deployment of new technologies.
Subsidy Control Bill: the Government will update the UK’s Subsidy Control Regime to provide a tailored UK approach to issuing subsidies to business. The new regime will enable public authorities to deliver subsidies that are tailored and bespoke for local needs to support the UK’s economic recovery by increasing UK R&D investment and achieving net zero.
The system will also aim to restrict subsidies that risk causing distortive or harmful economic impacts on the UK’s internal market, and will align with principles set out in the UK’s international commitments at the World Trade Organisation and in Free Trade Agreements.
techUK and our members want to see the Government take an approach to subsidies which is clear, easy to navigate and has key points of contact that allow businesses to get advice and information on potential support. The regime must also aim to prevent distortions in the market and ensure the UK’s approach to subsidies does not result in restrictions to international trade.
What was missing:
National Data Strategy: the Government recently finished its consultation on the National Data Strategy. The 12-week consultation gathered views from stakeholders on four pillars and five missions that would help shape a new approach to data after the UK left the EU Single Market and Customs Union. A Government response and outline of next steps are expected this year.
Digital Strategy: The Government is planning a Digital Strategy to support a safe, fair and open digital economy, building on UK strengths in foundational technologies like AI, quantum computing and digital twins. The Strategy is expected towards the end of this year, but was not referenced in the Queen’s Speech.
The full Queen’s Speech can be read here.
As Head of Policy Neil leads techUK's domestic policy development. He regularly engages with UK and Devolved Government Ministers, senior civil servants and Members of the UK’s Parliaments with the aim of supporting government and industry to work together to make the UK the best place to start, scale and develop technology companies.
Neil joined techUK in 2019 to lead on techUK’s engagement in the UK-EU Brexit trade deal negotiations, as well as leading on economic policy.
He has a background in the UK Parliament and in social research. Neil holds a masters degree in Comparative Public Policy from the University of Edinburgh and an undergraduate degree in International Politics from City, University of London.