Government in digital strategy shock

Added by Chris Pateman | Monday 7th November 2016

Gosh!  What a difference a referendum makes! 

A government committed to improving UK productivity and making a success of Brexit has been looking round for quick wins.  Happily, the UK comms and technology sector is already world-class in many areas in its own right.  It also provides vital underpinning for the UK creative industries (both beloved of the media luvvies on the DCMS Select Committee and major export earners).  And it’s top of the wish list for business lobbies as diverse as the EEF and the IOD.  So once the politicians actually have a commercial imperative to start asking the obvious questions, comms is suddenly front and centre in the spotlight.

Hence the major new commitment to investing in world class digital infrastructure announced by our new digital policy minister, Matt Hancock, at the Broadband World Forum on October 19.  A hyper-connected Britain based on fibre-enabled infrastructure and ubiquitous 5G.

After so long banging our heads off the padded wall of Ed Vaizey’s departmental inertia, it’s a bit of a shock to find FCS’s policy ideas are not just being listened to, but invested in. Yes, seriously invested in. At least in terms of executive firepower.

For starters, the UK now has a Digital Czar in the form of Matthew Gould, formerly Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Israel.  His job in the newly-created role of Director General for Digital & Media includes responsibility for:

  • Making sure the UK has the world-class connectivity it needs.
  • Supporting British companies with access to infrastructure and technology.
  • Helping build digital ecosystems where bright ideas can become successful companies.
  • Equipping British people with the skills they need to flourish in a digital world.
  • Reducing the number of people excluded from the digital economy to help create an economy that works for all.
  • Working to create an innovation-friendly and cyber-secure country.

It’s been a while since the government created a new role of this kind.  My previous experience of the ‘Construction Czar‘ was extremely positive in terms of grabbing the big industry issues and targeting firepower to drive structural change. As the voice of the vital business-to-business channel, FCS is seeking an early meeting with Mr Gould.

Meanwhile, the structural commitment to digital infrastructure investment has also manifested in the creation of a new high-level Digital Infrastructure and Inclusion committee, chaired by DCMS Secretary of State Karen Bradley.  Its terms of reference: ‘To drive the roll out of universal broadband and better mobile phone connections, and ensure that everyone is part of the digital economy’.

The membership consists of:

  • Karen Bradley             Staffordshire Moorlands         Secretary of State, DCMS
  • David Gauke               Hertfordshire SW                    Chief Secretary to the Treasury
  • Ben Gummer              Ipswich                                    Paymaster General
  • Matt Hancock             West Suffolk                            Digital & Innovation Minister
  • Gavin Barwell             Croydon Central                      Housing & Planning Minister
  • Jo Johnson                 Orpington                                Universities & Innovation Minister
  • Robert Halfon             Harlow                                     Minister without portfolio
  • Paul Maynard             Blackpool                                 Rail Minister
  • Lord Gardiner of Kimble                                             Undersecretary of State at DEFRA 

That’s a very significant level of Ministerial involvement.  And a quite astonishing response to FCS’s long-standing complaint that silo’d ministerial briefs work to the detriment of delivering best-in-class responses to issues like cyber-crime.  In this case, though, the focus is most definitely outward:  about marshalling inputs to deliver universal connectivity to underpin economic growth.

Suddenly, it looks as if our industry is pushing on an open door.  Are we all ready to go through it together?