Why the PM was right to recognise that Britain’s future is digital
It has been nearly six years since ‘digital’ was added to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. During this time, the contribution of digital to UK employment and the overall economy has fundamentally changed. The UK tech sector alone now employs over 1.7 million people and adds over £150 billion to the UK economy every year.
Yet digital is so much more than the technology sector. In that six years alone, digital has fundamentally underpinned the way the world operates; disrupting organisations in every industry and sector by breaking down barriers between people, businesses, and things. New applications born digitally are helping to solve some of humankind’s greatest challenges and are improving the way we live, with far-reaching social benefit.
Earlier this year the Prime Minister made a very positive step towards delivering against this opportunity and his new policy agenda of making the UK “a beacon of science, technology and enterprise,” by establishing the first ever Whitehall department dedicated to science and technology policy.
As part of a wider Ministry shake-up, he announced the formation of the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT), bringing together responsibilities that were previously split between the former Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
Given the huge pace of transformation we have seen from the evolution of digital in the UK over the past five years, just think of the potential growth opportunities for the UK economy if we get the focus on digital right with this new department. The government’s own digital strategy recognises that the UK’s economic future and geo-political standing in the world is reliant on the continued and growing success of digital.
Just last month we hosted George Freeman, Minister of State at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, at our first ever UK Fast Future Innovation Awards, where he outlined that “innovation - improving the productivity of every process in our society and economy - is the key to both economic prosperity and widening access to economic opportunity.” Creating the conditions and policies in our digital ecosystem is key to enabling innovation to flourish, and to enable the UK to be a leading destination for digital business.
We recently evidenced the economic scope for digital in the UK, with modelling from the Centre for Economic and Business Research. According to the data, wider digital adoption in key industries such as utilities, transport, retail, hospitality, and construction could generate £132 billion in productivity gains for the UK economy by 2030. This growth would come from greater connectivity, easier access to talent with digital skills and the wider adoption of digital technology.
Crucially, the report outlined that the single biggest lever we have in boosting productivity and earning power in the UK today is how we build on the digital skills of the nation. The findings clearly illustrate how a more inclusive approach to the use of technology – including recruitment and development of talent from all corners of the UK - will create opportunity for the economy as a whole.
With so much at stake, the government’s decision to create a new Department which elevates digital within government was arguably overdue. With new governance, and better prominence and investment for digital, the hope is that the UK can more quickly benefit from new economic growth opportunities, and realise huge efficiencies across business, infrastructure, education and public services.
In Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s words, this new department will be instrumental in “positioning the UK at the forefront of global scientific and technological advancement.” This, of course, is dependent on the government putting substance behind its agenda and really making a success of the new Department.
David Meads, Chief Executive, Cisco UK & Ireland