The 2022 Digital Strategy, does it provide the ambition we need for UK tech?
Published on 13 June the 2022 Digital Strategy provides an update to the last Digital Strategy published in 2017. This welcome update aims to identify the key public policy challenges that face the tech sector while setting out the actions being taken across Government to boost growth and innovation.
The Strategy is clear about the rewards UK tech can deliver. Highlighting that if the UK’s digital ecosystems are given the right support this could add £41.5 billion to the UK economy and create a further 678,000 jobs by 2025, while also pointing to the strategic role technologies such as AI, semiconductors and quantum technologies could have for the UK’s future.
Six essential areas for sustained digital growth:
To achieve this the Strategy identifies six essential areas of action needed to support sustained digital growth:
- Digital Foundations - Rolling out world-class digital infrastructure and a light-touch, pro-growth regulatory regime that protects citizens while encouraging both investment and innovation.
- Ideas and intellectual property (IP) - Stimulating innovation through research and development and growing the UK’s expertise in technologies of the future, including artificial intelligence, semiconductors and quantum computing.
- Skills and talent - Strengthening the tech talent pipeline with digital skills the economy needs at every stage from school to lifelong learning and a comprehensive suite of visas to attract the brightest minds from around the world.
- Financing digital growth - Encouraging UK capital including pension funds to be invested in British scale-ups to support long term growth and leading support for innovation through InnovateUK and the British Business Bank.
- The whole UK: spreading prosperity and levelling up: Helping businesses in every region take up the latest technologies and spread the benefits of a strong digital economy across the country
- Enhancing the UK’s place in the world: Collaborating on international digital trade and tech governance systems centred around freedom and openness.
The six essential areas for sustained digital growth are well structured and identify many of the contemporary issues that confront the sector, while also setting out the detail on immediate action that the Government and its agencies are taking to address these.
On the whole the Strategy is a welcome intervention that provides a key reference point for stakeholders for action being taken across Government as well as including some important new initiatives. These include:
- plans to work with techUK to continue to ensure the UK’s digital regulatory approach is streamlined, coherent and pro-innovation,
- the launch of a revised digital identity and attributes trust Framework,
- the announcement of a new Digital Skills Council and,
- more details on the ‘Future of Compute Review’. An external review that will advise on how the UK can have access to the computing power we will need to lead in future digital innovation and service delivery,
- a new joint UK/US Prize Challenge to accelerate the development of Privacy-Enhancing Technologies (PETs),
- Confirmation of a UK Semiconductor Strategy later in 2022.
Is the Digital Strategy ambitious enough?
However, while this Strategy is welcome it is short-term, with the majority of actions listed already happening or set for completion on or before 2024/25. Should all these deliverables be implemented without delay the Strategy would need to be updated by the end of 2024 to remain relevant.
The Strategy is also missing a longer-term vision or statement of intent about the role that digital technologies could play in tackling the systemic problems that face the UK. For example, the UK’s historically low economic productivity, how to revolutionise our national infrastructure or adapting to the challenges of an ageing population.
This feels like a missed opportunity given the enthusiasm the UK Government has shown toward making the UK a science and technology superpower and the role such a vision or statement of intent would play in sparking debate and discussion about future policy action.
It also would have been welcome to see (as has been done in the Government’s Innovation Strategy), some key targets or metrics identified by which the Government is seeking to judge success across the six essential areas for action.
techUK will continue to work closely with the Government in the delivery of the strategy. To make it a success Government and the industry must work at speed to deliver on the six essential areas for action while also seeking to converge around a longer term vision for the role of the tech sector in the UK.
Responding to the publication of the Digital Strategy, techUK CEO Julian David said:
"Innovation in technology will be essential to deliver the jobs, growth and prosperity the UK needs. techUK welcomes the Digital Strategy which provides an important single vision from Government for the digital economy.
"Delivering this plan will help keep the UK at the vanguard of leading digital economies in an increasingly competitive world for tech. We know what we need to do, now is the time to get on and do it."
Key actions included in the 2022 Digital Strategy:
The Digital Strategy provides a useful Annex of key actions being taken by Government across the six essential areas for sustained digital growth and identifies the Government Department or agency responsible for delivering them.
This useful map for stakeholders is located at the end of the Strategy. A link to the full Digital Strategy can be found here.
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