What the digital industries needs from the new UK Government

Tarek Nseir & Natalie Gross, president of BIMA

We need long-term, cross-party commitment to digital from our new government.

Since the release of the government’s Digital Strategy back in March there have been too many distractions for it to remain at the forefront of the government's mind. Brexit, a snap election, and now a hung parliament and a likely leadership contest has demonstrated that the government’s Digital Strategy simply isn’t robust enough to survive in their hearts and minds and we’re now seemingly lacking any visible commitment to it.

BIMA wants to see more progress and commitment across four key areas:

Cross-party agreement

Digital shouldn’t be partisan. Investment in digital is investment in infrastructure - it’s the backbone of the economy, making it impossible to thrive without deep understanding of how it’s taught, implemented and applied. Every Party can agree that we need roads and homes, every Party should agree on a digital roadmap.

Agreement on a robust digital strategy for the UK, cross-party, will instill confidence in our industry. The lure of the US, where investment is strong, is an immediate concern around pioneering technology firms, especially in the biotech and life sciences where artificial intelligence is really making its mark. Political parties aligned to a common goal with an agreed strategy for maintaining the UK as a digital leader will encourage investment and keep the science here.

Talent

The government needs to set out a clearer and more comprehensive strategy for teaching digital skills. We need to teach and we need to nurture the home-grown and overseas talent that’s already here.

The UK currently attracts more investment than Europe, but we need a strategy that secures the digital industry post-Brexit. There are almost 200,000 EU workers in the UK’s digital sector. Losing them would be an obvious disaster and would certainly topple the UK off the No.1 spot for digital investment in Europe. The domino effect of this is also clear; it paves the way for the US to dominate, unchallenged.

The government needs to commit to a borderless approach to attracting, nurturing and teaching digital skills. To make this a reality there needs to be clear leadership around it and we need to work with the new government to make this happen. Consultation with industry leaders and with bodies like BIMA needs to be structured and organised for outcome, not just conversation.

Also, the digital strategy gives a nod to diversity but nowhere near enough. There needs to be a stronger push around this issue with clear calls to action - otherwise we will end up following in the footsteps of all other industries in this regard.

Security

Legislation is too easily imposed without due diligence or consultation. Knee-jerk regulation aimed at digital platforms isn’t the answer and undermines the positive role that digital plays in our society.

There is a mixed and penalising perspective towards social and digital platforms when it comes to security. The UK needs to push more aggressively to protect digital borders but legislation needs to be based on a smart and realistic understanding of how these platforms, as well the commercial and operating models of the businesses that rely on them, operate.

Basic consultation is not enough here, government needs an intelligent and pioneering approach to security; working with our industry to develop smart legislation that protects the public and economy. Let’s take a brave approach that takes our allies on that journey with us – this is not an issue where we can be isolated in our approach or thinking.

Investment

Digital is the fourth industrial revolution and the government’s current digital strategy fails at a headline level to set out its commitment to pioneering and emerging technology and the role of the UK on the global stage. Where are the bold statements, the ambitious calls to action that we can all rally behind? Could the UK be the most prolific producer of data scientists in the world? Should we be doing more to secure our place as a world leader in AI development?

For this to happen the government needs a significant step-change its own understanding, investment and R&D when it comes to emerging technologies so that it can support industry that could and should deploy these as a commercial advantage. At BIMA we’ve developed an AI think tank because we know that AI will have a transformative effect on our world, beyond people’s current perception. We believe the government should follow a similar stance.

A stronger commitment to AI by the new government will come if they invest time with industry leaders to understand the practical applications. And with that, you’d expect a greater focus on the UK, which would attract rival investment to keep the pioneers here while securing the role of the UK on the global stage.

The government’s strategy hasn’t been developed with enough consultation with industry leaders - those that know - and doesn’t go far enough in committing to pioneering technologies that will keep the UK economy “strong and stable”.

We need to see commitment from this new government - but this commitment will only be borne out of a deep understanding of the digital industry and how the future will be shaped by emerging technologies. Our industry is here to help and it’s crucial that the government recognises that.

Natalie Gross & Tarek Nseir are the Presidents of BIMA

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