Digital priorities for this Parliament

Digital priorities for this Parliament, covering Europe, digital infrastructure, skills and cyber security.

Ed Vaizey

I’m really pleased to be here today and to be able to speak alongside Neelie Kroes and Martha Lane Fox. Thank you for inviting me.

The very fact that you are all here today shows that you already get the importance of digital, so I’m not going to reel off the stats about the size and impact of digital on the UK economy. I’m just going to quote the slogan of that well-known chocolate bar and to note that digital is having an increasingly significant impact on the way we work, rest and play.

In line with the Chancellor’s recent Mansion House speech, it is worth reflecting on digital technology as an important driver of productivity. It can reduce costs, and create efficiencies. But it can also radically change the way we do things and create new opportunities – from driverless cars, to block chain technology, to the exciting possibilities of quantum computing. Indeed I was intrigued to discover that according to the Chief Executive of Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), their busiest branch is not on some high street somewhere but is now their mobile app on the 7:15 train to Paddington.

I want to use this speech today to set out my priorities for digital and identify where I think the key opportunities are for the UK over the coming years.

One of the first things the Prime Minister David Cameron announced after the election was his decision to put all of the Digital Economy Unit into the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). This means that I, as a joint DCMS/Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Minister, and my team of officials now have a clear lead across the digital policy agenda. I believe this will bring real coherence and more clout to this agenda.


But it is not just greater coordination at a national level that is required to reap the benefits of the digital economy. A European digital single market, in conjunction with effective free trade agreements, will ensure that the UK and Europe can reap the benefits in the years ahead as we export to the world the fantastic technology developed across this continent.

The government wants to make it easier for consumers to shop online, across borders by breaking down barriers. We also want to remove unnecessary regulation burdens which prevent incumbent businesses as well as start-ups from transacting throughout the European Union (EU).

To make the digital single market a success, we need UK businesses to help us have a strong and compelling voice in Brussels negotiations. We need you to tell us know what you think is important.

Digital infrastructure

Another key element of a thriving digital economy is the digital broadband and mobile services. These services are vital for the economy and social cohesion, and we need a digital communications infrastructure that meets the needs of users, including ubiquitous availability, reliability, speed, affordability and resilience.

We have made good progress on improving fixed broadband and mobile infrastructure. Superfast broadband is currently available to over 80% of homes and businesses in the UK and we will have achieved 95% by 2017. We have also issued over 25,000 broadband vouchers to SMEs in cities across the UK, so they can reap the benefits of connection to better quality, high speed broadband

Every one of us here today will have experienced the frustration of being somewhere and not having a mobile signal. That’s why we are holding mobile operators to their legally-binding commitment to ensure that 90 per cent of the UK landmass will have voice and SMS coverage by 2017 from each operator. It is why we included a licence obligation in the 4G auction, that was won by Telefonica, to require indoor 4G coverage to 98% of UK premises by 2017. And it is why we are also continuing to invest in mobile infrastructure to help deliver coverage for voice calls and text messages for the final 0.3 to 0.4% of premises that do not currently have it.

New technologies

Government is also supporting how new technologies like data analytics are changing our everyday lives – from how the government delivers its services to how companies engage with their customers. At a time when British businesses earn one in every 5 pounds from the internet, UK data-driven firms are now 40% more likely to launch new products and services than their rivals.

Last month, we announced a new £300 million joint research programme between the Hartree Science and Technology site in Daresbury and IBM. Hartree is now one of the world’s most advanced high performance computing facilities. It provides data analysis, modelling and simulation expertise that is saving UK companies time and money when developing new products. This autumn will also see the launch of the new Alan Turing Institute. The Institute, which will have its head quarters at the British Library, will work with industry to generate new opportunities from data analytics.

The sharing economy is another example of radical digital disruption. From homeowners able to make money from their property by renting out their spare room or driveway, to festival-goers able to save money by sharing a ride with a stranger, new platforms can help us use our assets more efficiently and productively. That’s why we are supporting the sharing economy, by supporting tenants that want to share their space and opening up government procurement to sharing platforms. We have also announced £700,000 to support ‘sharing city’ pilots in Manchester and Leeds, to see how the sharing economy can support local communities and public services

Cyber and consumer protection

It is also essential to ensure that UK businesses and citizens are aware of the threats arising as a result of the shift to a more digital economy. Government wants the UK to be one of the safest places in the world to do business.

According to our annual breaches survey which was published last week, 90% of large companies and 73% of small companies suffered an information security breach last year. To help raise awareness for businesses, our Cyber Streetwise campaign highlights the potential dangers and our Cyber Essentials scheme sets out steps that organisations should take to protect themselves against the most common cyber security threats. It is now mandatory for the suppliers of many government contracts to hold a Cyber Essentials certificate, so I urge all organisations to adopt Cyber Essentials so they can protect and promote themselves online.

We also recognise the importance of protecting consumers too. Earlier this year we announced a £3.5 million package to combat nuisance calls. This will help develop innovative call blocking technology and raise awareness of how to reduce and report nuisance calls.

Digital skills

Before you break off into your session on digital skills, I want to end my speech today to talk about how the UK can develop the right digital so that every individual has the confidence and ability to get online safely and that employers are getting the skills they value and need.

These are issues facing every developed country but here in the UK, we have a unique vantage point. We have 6 of the world’s top 60 engineering and technology universities and over twenty individual tech clusters, which are hot beds of specialist skills and expertise. The digital sector is a UK success story. It’s employing over 1.3 million people and we estimate needing a million new people for digital roles in the workforce within a decade.

But we cannot underestimate the scale of the challenge. The pace of technological change is rapid, which is why the government is committed to working in partnership with all sectors to put the UK in the strongest position it can be.

Digital inclusion

This starts with making sure that every individual has the basic digital skills and confidence they need to safely get online. In the last 4 years and working with partners, we have supported 1.5 million people to get these skills and start to realise the benefits of being online. Our ambition is to reach another one million people over the course of this parliament.

Upskilling the workforce

Ten years ago, who could have predicted that people would be employed to maintain a company’s Twitter account? So what is government doing to prepare the workforce for jobs that might not even exist yet?

The new computing curriculum is at the heart of creating a more digitally confident and adaptable population. We keep hearing about coding and, yes, teaching this is a key part of the change. But the new curriculum goes further, helping young people to think critically and analytically and to solve problems in the real world. What’s more the new curriculum signifies a belief that digital skills are important for everyone – regardless of background or gender.

High level technical skills

It’s essential that government works with industry to make sure we’re also providing the skills they need for specialist digital roles across the economy. Employers tell us that apprenticeships are really delivering what they need; and this confidence has seen them collaborating to create new standards for digital apprenticeships. From this year, innovative degree apprenticeships, delivered in partnership between universities and employers, will equip individuals with the highly prized mix of high level technical skills and on-the-job learning. As an apprenticeship, this is two thirds funded by government with the remaining third and a wage paid for by employers, making it attractive to individuals from all backgrounds.

We have also established the National College for Digital Skills, which is due to open its doors to full-time students in 2016, raising the bar for high quality provision. This aims to reach 5,000 learners within 5 years, providing a vital pool of digital talent and expertise.

Working in partnership

What is clear, is that the scale of the digital skills challenge needs us all to work together. Last year, we provided £18.4 million of funding, alongside employer support for the Tech Partnership. This industrial partnership is enabling employers to come together to voice and address their digital skills needs.

We’re also supporting innovative ways to reach more people. The BBC’s ‘Make It Digital’ campaign is a real testament to how bringing together a number of organisations and voices, can really drive awareness of the digital skills agenda.

The government is working in concert across a number of departments to deliver its truly digital agenda. At the heart of this is working at pace to embrace the changes and ensure that the UK is firmly on the map as the best place for digital skills. I look forward to working with you all more closely to make this the reality.

Published 29 June 2015