In March 2017, the Secretary of State for Media, Sport and Culture published its long-awaited strategy for a post-Brexit digital Britain. The UK Digital Strategy aims to support the growth of the UK digital economy. It builds on the framework of the government’s Industrial Strategy green paper published earlier this year – which the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has since warned does not go far enough in discussing the evolutionary implications that Brexit will have on the UK’s industrial strategy. Whilst the impact of the recent General Election is not yet known, the UK Digital Strategy is not seen as particularly controversial and we are likely to expect continuity in respect of the strategy going forward.
The digital strategy is comprised of seven strands across a broad range of areas including the technology and telecommunications industry, as set out below. It is unsurprising that a “safe and secure cyberspace” is the focus of one of these strands, titled “making the UK the safest place in the world to live and work online”.
- Online security and safety: The government will support the National Cyber Security Centre (part of GCHQ) as the single point of contact for businesses that provide “critical national infrastructure”. The aim is to secure Britain’s technology, data and networks. Broadband filters will be strengthened to combat illegal online content. The government is committed to providing a pipeline of cyber skills through a series of initiatives, including cyber apprenticeships and re-training programmes for career changers. Support for businesses will include the establishment of two new Innovation Centres that will provide high quality support to cyber security start-ups in London and Cheltenham and “boot camps” to provide training and encourage sharing of best practice. The government is committed to creating a regulatory framework which encourages cyber security but avoids unnecessary burdens on industry, flagging the incoming European General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR“) as an opportunity to improve cyber risk management.
- Starting and growing digital businesses: The government will play a key supporting role in the growth of digital businesses, including by creating effective tax structures for businesses and investors, working with independent regulators to encourage innovation-friendly regulation, and supporting emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (“IoT“), connected and autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence (“AI“) and virtual reality. The government also intends to create five international tech hubs in emerging digital economies around the world.
- Helping businesses become digital: There will be continued support for initiatives like the Productivity Council which helps local businesses to get online and sell, and to embrace digital functions such as for payroll. Siemens and Southampton University will conduct reviews of industrial digitisation and AI respectively.
- Supporting the data economy: The government recognises the data economy as a key contributor to the UK’s growth and future prosperity. It aims to ensure strong data infrastructure, a high level of regulatory compliance, develop a data-literate workforce and increase the number of people with advanced data skills. The government will also help businesses prepare for the implementation of the GDPR.
- Access to digital skills: Free basic digital skills training will be provided across the country. A new Digital Skills Partnership will be established to tackle the digital skills gap and help people access jobs in the digital economy at a local level. The UK government will also support business-led programs such as Google’s Summer of Skills digital skills training programs aimed at accelerating digitisation in UK seaside towns. Digital skills will also be embedded in education.
- Digital infrastructure and connectivity: Digital infrastructure and connectivity will be improved by completing the rollout of superfast broadband and 4G across the country, and creating a universal service obligation for high speed broadband. Over £1 billion will be invested in accelerating the “development and uptake of the next generation of digital infrastructure”, including full fibre networks and 5G.
- Digital Government: The government is committed to its own digitisation alongside the new Government Transformation Strategy. Single cross-government platform services will continue to be developed, including by increasing GOV.UK Verify users and adopting new services on the GOV.UK Pay and GOV.UK Notify platforms.
To facilitate the development of the government’s digital strategy, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will convene a forum for government and the technology community to work together to support the growth of the UK digital economy, however the strategy has already been criticised by some in the cyber security and broader tech industries for lacking detail and measurable targets.
Click here to view the government’s policy paper on a safe and secure cyberspace.