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Industry reacts to new UK digital strategy

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Following the release of the UK’s post-Brexit digital strategy we get the views of some industry insiders to see how the plan had been received.

Secretary of State Karen Bradley outlined her plan to move the UK forward in a time where digital is becoming the new norm. While the UK, as well as Europe on the whole, is generally recognized as being a bit sluggish in comparison to the US or Asia, the strategy will partly be responsible for defining the UK’s position in the world rankings.

“At its core, that is the ambition of this Strategy – to create a world-leading digital economy that works for everyone,” Bradley said in a statement. “It is part of this government’s Plan for Britain, strengthening our economy for the long term as we take advantage of the opportunities that leaving the European Union provides.”

For Angus Finnegan, Partner and Head of Communications at law firm Taylor Wessing, the government is making the right noises, however industry still needs regulatory and legislative updates to ensure the success of the plan.

“The DCMS announcement on connectivity is a welcome statement on policy but we await the substantive proposals for much of the regulatory reform required to encourage investment in new network infrastructure,” said Finnegan. “The regulatory environment been for some time been under review at both a UK and European level, with the EU recently tabling some proposals to lighten the regulatory burden for communications providers who invest in shared infrastructure.

“In light of Brexit, it is not clear whether the UK will implement these proposals although Ofcom has been exploring similar themes as part of its review. In the near term, we await the outcome of Ofcom’s review of the structure of Openreach as well as its decision on the extent to which it will impose safeguards on disproportionate spectrum holding under the forthcoming 5G auctions (2.3 and 3.4 GHz bands).”

David Turner, the UK CEO of Webhelp is another who has taken the announcement with a slight tone of scepticism. The direction of the strategy is correct, but is enough investment being made available to compete with other nations who are spraying cash around to capitalize on the digital movement.

“Britain needs to invest more in new technology if it is to compete in a post Brexit world,” said Turner. “France is actively positioning itself as a hub for artificial intelligence and robotics. With companies like Facebook choosing to locate their AI hubs in Paris, it is a goal the French look likely to achieve.

“Meanwhile in Britain, many people are still struggling with the lack of basic infrastructure needed to operate in a digital world. Earlier this week, the government announced a major review to ensure the development of artificial intelligence in the UK. This review included £17.3m of funding for robotics and AI research at UK universities, which is roughly equivalent to what Webhelp as an individual company spends on developing its digital footprint each year.

“While the development of a digital strategy by the UK government is to be welcomed, is this investment really significant enough to both address some of the existing basic issues and to put Britain on a secure path to becoming a world leader in a post Brexit digital age?”

Jeremy Silver, CEO at Digital Catapult however is a bit more encouraged by the plans set forward by the government.

“Digital Catapult welcomes the government’s publication of its Digital Strategy. This symbolises a tipping point for the UK economy; it is a great statement of digital opportunity for all. As a nation we are taking strides in artificial intelligence, 5G, the Internet of Things and Immersive technologies,” said Silver.

“It is fantastic to see the government’s ongoing commitment today to delivering value from these technologies. It is these future networks and emerging technologies which will help us build world leading digital sectors and act as economic drivers across many sectors of the whole economy.

“For the potential of this new wave of innovation to be fully realised, every person has a role to play; from policymakers and industry to academics and citizens, broad collaboration will be needed to deliver a digital economy which thrives and drives productivity right across the UK.”

Adam Hale, CEO at start-up Fairsail, is another who has found positivity in the announcement, however it is more a case of ‘about time’.

“As one of the fastest growing UK scale-ups, we wholeheartedly support this strategy. We know that the biggest thing holding us back that’s within the government’s power to help address is the lack of technical skills in the country.

“The technology skills crisis is at an all-time high and, with only 5,600 students studying Computer Science at A-Level in 2016 (a meagre 600 of which were female), it is vital to the future of our economy that we take concerted action to tackle this issue. We should be aiming for a tenfold increase here over the next five years, to 60,000 Computer Science students with females making up at least 30%. In a world where every industry is rapidly digitising, the government must continue to make this a priority for the future strength and stability of our economy.”

Those who are sceptical will always point to the government track record of saying/doing meaning completely different things, whereas the optimists will highlight the state is finally recognizing the importance of the digital economy. In any case, the digital strategy will play a very important role in defining the UK’s influence in the world’s pecking order. Let’s hope it works out for the better.


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