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Britain to hire hundreds of data scientists to spur pandemic recovery

·2-min read
Oliver Dowden MP - HANNAH MCKAY  /REUTERS  
Oliver Dowden MP - HANNAH MCKAY /REUTERS

The British government has launched a nationwide project to train hundreds of new data scientists in an effort to use technology to drive the country’s recovery from the pandemic. 

The National Data Strategy will see the government hire and train 500 data analysts by 2021, with a view to supporting businesses and the economy-at-large with digital tools that can boost innovation and kickstart growth. 

The plan will also see the government appoint a new chief data officer to oversee the project, and will involve a £2.6m investment to address issues such as hate speech and abuse online. 

Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, claimed the new strategy would free up people to “experiment and drive a new era of growth”, pointing to the way focus on data and digital transformation served as a “lifeline” during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Our response to coronavirus has shown just how much we can achieve when we can share high-quality data quickly, efficiently and ethically. I don’t intend to let that lesson go to waste,” he said.

It comes as Britain attempts to mount an economic recovery following a record 20.4pc drop in GDP in the three months to June as lockdown measures to curb the spread of coronavirus squeezed businesses.

Digital ID cards poll
Digital ID cards poll

The government has increasingly emphasised the role technology can play in helping digitise services and the use of location data to support contact tracing efforts. The government is also reportedly considering introducing digital ID cards.

Mr Dowden added that under the strategy, data and data use will be seen as opportunities to be embraced rather than “threats against which to be guarded”, amid concerns from privacy experts over the government’s handling of people’s personal information.

Responding to the announcement, Mark Taylor, data and digital transformation lawyer at Osborne Clarke, said data sharing arrangements would need to be “carefully structured”. 

“Governance and security around shared data also need to be agreed.  There are also layers of compliance to build in, from GDPR to antitrust information sharing constraints, to sector-specific regulation,” he said.

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