Future-gazing

Britain’s digital economy: no one left behind

By Alex Wood 1 March 2017
image: RapidEye/iStock
Summary

"The digital economy works for all, not just the privileged few".

Today marks the launch of the Government’s bold new Digital Strategy plan.

Karen Bradley MP, the minister behind the scheme, pledged that billions will be invested into new international tech hubs and a national competition for financial technology.

There was a lot of hyperbole – yet again we heard “Britain will rival Silicon Valley” and “keeping Britain at the forefront of digital connectivity” (broadband). But one thing stood out:

This administration is determined that no-one gets 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,” said Bradley.

A hard task ahead

The stats make for hard reading. In some parts of Britain, one of the world’s most advanced economies, up to 38% of people lack basic digital skills.

And for the past two years, Martha Lane Fox has tirelessly campaigned about the issue of digital inclusion.

Being left behind doesn’t just harm your chances in the workplace, it also makes everyday life more difficult.

From paying your council tax to renewing your driving license – more of our public services are going digital, so it’s essential that everyone can use them.

Barclays, Lloyds and Google teach the nation

To fix this, a number of private companies including Barclays, Lloyds Bank and Google will work with the Government to roll out one of the most ambitious digital skills programmes the country has ever seen.

It may sound like a strange fit – but the move makes a lot of sense.

Through its Digital Eagles scheme, for the past three years, Barclays has already been showing people how to get more from the internet up and down the country. And Google already offers online skills courses through the ‘Digital Garage’ for free.

Now initiatives like these will be scaled up and rolled out across the country, to help the Government meet its bold new target of 4 million new online training opportunities.

Tech no longer on the fringes

In today’s announcement there was another notable change in tact.

Where previously MPs have popped up making both loose and conflicting promises of grandeur (we’re looking at you Boris Johnson, Osborne, Vasey and co) Bradley’s steady promise to make tech more inclusive is rooted in the here and now.

In an interview on BBC Breakfast this morning, for the first time, Bradley make it clear that tech is a core part of the Government’s new industrial strategy, one of PM Theresa May’s showstopper policies for Brexit Britain.

That’s quite something for a sector that has long awkwardly straddled government departments including the former Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Department of Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS).

Tech is no longer on the sidelines – it’s at the heart of this country’s future.

And it’s going to be open to everyone.