Public Services > Central Government

Whitehall unveils its digital strategy

David Bicknell Published 01 March 2017

Long awaited government plan delayed by Brexit implications focuses on skills, infrastructure and innovation


The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has launched its digital strategy with a strong emphasis on skills designed to make Britain the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business.

The launch of the Brexit-delayed strategy was signalled last weekend when the government made an announcement of its ambitions in artificial intelligence (AI), which also forms part of the strategy.

The remaining announcements today put flesh on the bones of the plan, which will be formally unveiled in East London this morning. As well as skills, infrastructure and innovation are at the heart of the new strategy to support Britain’s digital economy. It includes a new Digital Skills Partnership and pledges millions of free digital training opportunities.

The partnership will see the government working with business, charities and voluntary organisations to make sure people have the right skills for the jobs in their area and are aware of all the digital training opportunities on offer to them.

Bank groups Barclays and Lloyds plus Google feature heavily in the training plans. Lloyds will give face-to-face digital skills training to 2.5m individuals, charities and small and medium businesses by 2020; Barclays plans to teach basic coding to 45,000 more children and assist up to one million people with general digital skills and cyber awareness; and Google, as part of its commitment of five hours of free digital skills for everyone, will help boost digital skills in seaside towns.

In other moves, BT will expand its Barefoot Computing Project to enable a further 500,000 children to develop early computational thinking skills by the end of the 2017/18 academic year and the HP Foundation will bring a free online learning platform - HP LIFE - to the UK. This is intended to improve business, IT and digital skills for disadvantaged groups in the UK and aims to reach 6,000 new UK users over the next five years. Accenture is also to partner with FutureLearn to develop a new national digital skills programme to boost learning through online collaboration.

The strategy is intended to build on the recent launches of the industrial and transformation strategies and, with Brexit in mind, is designed to help Britain to build on its strengths to secure a future as a competitive, global nation.

Other commitments unveiled in the strategy are:

  • The creation of five international tech hubs in emerging markets to create and develop partnerships between UK companies and local tech firms. The hubs will be based upon the successful UK-Israel Tech Hub which to date has delivered more than 80 partnerships with a deal value of £62m.
  • A new competition to spark the development of new FinTech products that can support those who struggle to access financial services.
  • A plan to create a Secretary of State-led forum for government and the tech community to work together to grow the digital economy through innovation and the adoption of digital in the wider economy.
  • A Business Connectivity Forum, to be chaired by DCMS to bring together business organisations, local authorities and communications providers to help businesses access fast, affordable and reliable broadband.
  • The confirmation of a £1bn programme to keep Britain at the forefront of digital connectivity that was first announced in the Autumn Statement. The funding is intended to accelerate the development and uptake of next generation digital infrastructure, including full fibre broadband plans and 5G.
  • A major AI review led by Wendy Hall and Jérôme Pesenti will identify the critical elements for the technology to thrive and grow in the UK. It will consider how government and industry could work together with the aim of establishing the potential for a possible sector deal.

Culture secretary Karen Bradley said, “The UK’s world-leading digital sectors are a major driver of growth and productivity, and we are determined to protect and strengthen them.

“This Digital Strategy sets a path to make Britain the best place to start and grow a digital business, trial a new technology, or undertake advanced research as part of the government’s plan to build a modern, dynamic and global trading nation.

“To do that, we will work closely with businesses and others to make sure the benefits and opportunities are spread across the country so nobody is left behind.

“There should be no digital divide - every individual and every business should have the skills and confidence to make the most of digital technology and have easy access to high-quality internet wherever they live, work, travel or learn.”

DCMS officials told Government Computing that the Brexit-induced delays since last June had given the department more time to think. One official said, “There is now much greater heft over here in DCMS to get the foundations right, make sure that we have the structures and the conditions for success in what we’re doing.

“Those conditions, if you think about it, are strong infrastructure in the UK, and that’s getting much better. There is always more to do in that space but we are making sure we build out effective infrastructure and hype-scale cloud compute within the UK’s borders. That means Amazon, Microsoft and Google can help organisations start off a business here and grow it to enormous scale. Cyber security is one of the things we’ve banging on about for a long time and it’s one of the things that we’re known for in the UK: great ‘cyber-hygiene’.

“A fundamental component of this is going to be skills. Not just the high end, but the very low end of skills that are about digital inclusion and the mid range skills that take you from being able to use a computer and being able to create using a computer. Digital skills are now on the same basis as literacy and numeracy. That’s quite a big step. The school and university population are quite easy to get to. This is about the people who have left school, left university and who are never coming back.”

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