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March 12, 2021

Six alternative tech priorities for the UK

The UK government has unveiled its ten tech priorities. We asked experts to propose alternative agendas the government may have missed.

By Pete Swabey

The UK tech sector has been waiting months, if not years, for the government to reveal its latest digital strategy. Yesterday, Oliver Dowden, the minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, finally provided some direction in the form of ten tech priorities that, he says, will usher in a “golden age” for technology in the UK.

What really matters is how these priorities are acted upon, of course, and the announcement is light on detail. But it is a broadly commendable list, identifying many of the urgent technology-related issues facing the country – uneven digital infrastructure, digital poverty, and the need to upskill the UK workforce – as well as opportunities, such as digital trade and the digital underpinnings of decarbonisation.

Technology is all-encompassing, however, and technology policy has far-reaching implications for the economy, society and all facets of life. Tech Monitor asked a group of experts to identify alternative priorities, agendas and ideas that the government may have missed or under-emphasised but that should be considered as the UK lays the digital foundations for the post-pandemic era.

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1. Build on the UK’s status as a world leader in open source

Amanda Brock, CEO, OpenUK

“The UK has some of the world’s leading open source companies that started their projects here and are now expanding internationally. The country also has a swathe of talented developers and contributors all taking part in the global open community, providing a huge economic injection for the UK as well as working with others around the world. The UK Government can support this further by expanding teaching around IT and open source to ensure the right skills are there for the future, and by increasing adoption of open source software in the public sector through the creation of an Open Source Program Office for the UK.”

2. Foster diversity and inclusion in tech

John Higgins, president, BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT

“BCS, governments and employers have a responsibility to encourage a much larger proportion of under-represented groups into the IT and tech sector, including women, people with disabilities and those from a wide range of ethnic groups and sexual orientations. This is both fair – and leads to innovations that represent society at large. Currently, less than 20% of IT professionals are women, and black women make up less than 1% of the industry, according to ONS data. We also know that white IT professionals are more likely to be in director-level roles.”

3. Harness tech innovation toward the delivery of better public services

Daniel Korski, CEO and co-founder, PUBLIC

“So that citizens can experience tangible benefits of technology, the government should build public services that mirror these priorities. Data-driven services run by tech-savvy officials – and built on world-class infrastructure – would drive the digitisation of healthcare, policing, justice, and more, to create efficient services that improve the lives of those who interact with them. Officials equipped with a grasp of the UK’s start-ups and scale-ups and a desire to embrace the innovation within would experience fewer barriers to collaboration and innovation. Backed by effective R&D and procurement strategies, government could build better, citizen-focused services while investing in a rapid-growth market expected to be worth over £20bn by 2025.”

4. Spark a breakthrough moment by mandating open standards

Gavin Starks, CEO, Icebreaker One

“The UK government can set the rules of engagement for global data exchange by mandating open standards for data sharing across sectors. This would create a breakthrough moment and enable the financial sector to directly innovate on capital management. Open standards create open markets by addressing business and policy needs. Imagine a decision-maker could access the data they needed to mandate net-zero, continuously measure progress and act to adapt incentives in a timely, credible manner. The UK led the world with the Open Banking Standard – which is regulated for the whole UK market and is now copied in dozens of countries. Now, we’re creating Open Energy with similar ambitions. The power of a nationwide, world-class digital infrastructure needs to be brought to bear to deliver our future needs across energy, transport, water, agriculture and our built world.”

5. Encourage people to opt for a career in tech

Debbie Forster MBE, CEO, Tech Talent Charter

“By incentivising a sector-wide drive on skills, and through upskilling, retraining and career conversions into tech roles, we could take the workforce upheaval caused by Covid and use it to meet the ongoing skills gap in the tech sector today. Tech was one of few sectors to continue to grow and hire under lockdown and needs even more people to enter its workforce. By offering more training and upskilling opportunities we could empower a displaced workforce, offer them sustainable jobs and futures and meet the tech talent shortfall.”

6. Employ technology to create a more equal and cohesive society

Alaa Owaineh, chief analyst, UK public sector, GlobalData

“Technology has a paradox at its heart. It has the potential to create monopolies and allow large corporations to avoid paying tax, but also allow plucky entrepreneurs to build businesses from nothing, scale them up with crowd-funding and reach customers anywhere, no matter how niche their product is.  Tech has the potential to create echo-chambers that sharpen social divides and stop us from listening to each other, but equally open up new ways of connecting to others and building communities. With the right regulation and support for those using technology for good, we can harness it to create more equal opportunities and strengthen our social fabric.”

Home page image: Carl Court / Getty Images.

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