Today sees the unveiling of the UK government’s new Digital Strategy by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The cross-government initiative, which was originally set to be unveiled in 2016, aims to put the UK firmly in the upper echelons of international digital prowess over the next five years.
The strategy is multi-faceted and sets out to cover all aspect of the UK’s digital footprint from connectivity through Wi-Fi and broadband, to the nurture of technical start-ups, education and cutting-edge projects.
In a time when digital connectivity is viewed as almost as important a service as electricity, gas and refuse collection, the UK is often cited as being behind the curve when it comes to broadband, 4 and 5G mobile network coverage and national digital skills. Today’s strategy sets out plans to combat the shortfall and to make the UK one of the world’s digital leaders by 2022.
As well as laying down targets for national connectivity, the initiative also focuses on digital developments, nurturing digital business start-ups and creating a basis of education to empower and educate those sections of Britain’s society who either feel intimidated by technology or who have yet to be sufficiently exposed to it to be able to use it every day.
What is it, exactly?
Simply named ‘Digital Strategy’ the main focuses of the initiative are nationwide connectivity improvements, digital business proliferation and initiatives to plug the technical knowledge gaps across the country, with big business providing a great deal of the input for the latter. Google, Barclays, Lloyds Banking and BT have all pledged to offer digital skills training to millions of people across the UK.
All-in-all, four million free digital skills training ‘opportunities’ will be offered, and these will be available in a wide-range of forms and on myriad platforms. Lloyds Bank has committed to providing the biggest commitment, with face-to-face training for 2.5 million individuals, organisations and charities by 2020. Lloyds courses will include such day-to-day digital applications internet and mobile banking. Digital Strategy will also lay down commitments for greater focus on youth training in coding and digital design including Barclay’s pledge to teach 45,000 children basic coding skills.
In its more basic forms, this training will aim to ensure members of the public from all generations can make use of online services and have basic computer skills. The efforts are not just to target younger generations with coding courses (though that is of course, part of it, with Barclays alone pledging to teach 45,000 children basic coding skills) but to ensure members of the public across all age groups can make use of online services that should increase their quality of life, aid better employment and create a greater understanding of digital advancements.
Further educational commitments come from online giant, Google, whose ‘Summer of Skills’ programme is aimed at the tourism sector and particularly seaside towns, and the Google engineering apprenticeship schemes. BT is also providing its Barefoot Computing Project to provide better digital and technical knowledge to teachers who are then better able to pass it onto their pupils.
“We believe that digital can have a transformative impact, no matter where you live and what your job is,” Ronan Harris, Google MD for UK and Ireland, said in a press release.
“We are delighted to be part of the Digital Skills Partnership and will continue to invest in the free skills training offered through the Digital Garage, launch a new programme aiming to help seaside communities, and – as a global first – are launching engineering apprenticeships, giving young people without a degree the opportunity to join Google’s world class software teams.”
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Karen Bradley, adds: “This Digital Strategy sets a path to make Britain the best place to start and grow a digital business, trial a new technology, or undertake advanced research as part of the Government’s plan to build a modern, dynamic and global trading nation. To do that, we will work closely with businesses and others to make sure the benefits and opportunities are spread across the country so nobody is left behind.”
Other focuses of the Digital Strategy include AI (Artificial Intelligence), led by the University of Southampton’s computer science professor Wendy Hall and Jerome Pesenti from BenevolentAI. The UK already has home-grown leaders in the field like DeepMind, and the government hopes to tap into more industry partnerships. £17.3 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has also been committed to boost robotics and AI research at universities in the UK.
Other aspects of the Digital Strategy include the approaching launch of five international technology hubs based on the UK-Israel technology hub which was launched in 2012, and the introduction of a Business Connectivity Forum aimed at giving companies access to faster, cheaper broadband.
The seven main points of the strategy are below and more detailed information can be found on the government website here.
Connectivity – Building world-class digital infrastructure for the UK
Skills and inclusion – Giving everyone access to the digital skills they need
The digital sectors – Making the UK the best place to start and grow a digital business
The wider economy – Helping every British business become a digital business
Cyberspace – Making the UK the safest place in the world to live and work online
Digital government – Maintaining the UK government as a world leader in serving its citizens online
The data economy – Unlocking the power of data in the UK economy and improving public confidence in its use
We’ll be updating our readers on the progress of the Digital Strategy as it happens, so watch this space.