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Plan for Britain

This government’s Plan for Britain is a plan to build a stronger, fairer country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. This means building an economy that works for everyone, and making sure that wealth and opportunity are spread across the country. It means building a nation that stands tall in the world and is set up to succeed in the long term. And it means building a country in which future generations have the chance to do better than their parents and grandparents today.

In January, we outlined a critical part of our plan for post-Brexit Britain. Our industrial strategy will see government stepping up to back businesses to invest for the long term. It involves building on Britain’s strategic strengths and tackling our underlying weaknesses, creating the conditions where successful businesses can emerge and grow. Its objective is to improve living standards and economic growth by increasing productivity and driving growth across the whole country.

Our digital strategy now develops this further, applying the principles outlined in the Industrial Strategy green paper to the digital economy. The UK has a proud history of digital innovation: from the earliest days of computing to the development of the World Wide Web, the UK has been a cradle for inventions which have changed the world. And from Ada Lovelace – widely recognised as the first computer programmer – to the pioneers of today’s revolution in artificial intelligence, the UK has always been at the forefront of invention. Today, this history translates into a world-leading digital economy. We have great strengths in FinTech – more people work in UK FinTech than in New York FinTech, or in the combined FinTech workforce of Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia1 – video games, EdTech and many other sectors. Our excellence in deep research and our creative thinking provides us with a crucial competitive advantage: we have three of the world’s top 10 universities, and 12 of the top 100.2 Of the G7 countries, the UK has the most productive science base and we rank first in many key global measures of research quality.3 In government, we have led the world in transforming our services and systems, using digital technology to make them easier, simpler and cheaper. Now, as we prepare to leave the European Union, our Strategy will create an economy which is resilient to change and fit for the future.

A digital strategy for a digital economy

Our digital strategy is formed of seven strands, summarised here and developed in more detail throughout the document.

Building world-class digital infrastructure for the UK

For businesses to thrive and grow, government needs to create the conditions and set the framework for investment in widespread and up-to-date infrastructure. Digital infrastructure is a critical component of this: digital connectivity is now a utility, and modern life is increasingly impossible without it. Connectivity drives productivity and innovation, and is the physical underpinning of a digital nation.

We are determined that no part of the country or group in society should be without adequate connectivity. We will continue our work to complete the roll-out of 4G and superfast broadband by 2020, but we will also implement a Universal Service Obligation, giving every individual, business and public premise across the country the right to request an affordable high speed broadband connection.

And we are ambitious for the opportunities afforded by the next stage of broadband and mobile rollout, so we will invest over £1 billion to accelerate the development and uptake of next generation digital infrastructure – including full fibre and 5G.

We will also support consumers in getting the best deal in digital connectivity. We will ensure adverts for broadband accurately reflect the speeds and technology actually on offer for the majority of customers, so that people know what they are getting and can better find the most competitive deal. And we know that real-world, day-to-day connectivity in the places we live, work and travel matters, so we will roll out free Wi-Fi on trains, and in more public places.

Read more about connectivity.

Giving everyone access to the digital skills they need

If we want to increase our overall prosperity, to enjoy higher real wages, and if we want more opportunities for young people to get on, we have to raise our productivity. In a digitally-driven economy, that means ensuring that everyone has the skills they need to flourish, with nobody left behind.

We need to support everyone to develop the skills they need to participate in the digital economy and help all businesses harness the productivity benefits of digital innovation. To do this, we will ensure adults in England who lack core digital skills will not have to pay to access the basic digital skills training they need, mirroring the approach taken for adult literacy and numeracy training. And, as jobs and whole industries are disrupted by digital innovation, we need to make sure those affected have the support they need to adapt. We will establish a new Digital Skills Partnership, working together with partners who are passionate about making a difference and who share our ambitions to tackle the digital skills gap. The Partnership will play a crucial role in helping people access digitally-focused jobs at a local level, bringing together technology companies, local businesses, local government and other organisations to identify digital job vacancies and take action to help people move into these jobs.

We also need a strong pipeline of specialist skills – from coding to cyber – to support the tech industry and drive productivity improvements across the economy. We will deliver coding in the National Curriculum, from Key Stage One onwards, and we will take forward the recommendations of the Shadbolt Review to ensure computer science students have the real-world, up to date skills needed in the digital economy. To help more young people from a wider range of backgrounds consider a career in tech, we will support the National Citizen Service (NCS) in piloting new ways to include digital skills and careers in NCS programmes.

Read more about digital skills.

Making the UK the best place to start and grow a digital business

Our industrial strategy involves identifying our strengths and building on them. The digital economy is a vital part of that: as we build a great, global trading nation, we will remain a world leader in innovation, building and using the most advanced technology that delivers incredible content and services. We have some of the most exciting start-ups in the world, and some of the strongest technology clusters. We want to build on that: we want the UK to be the best place to start and grow a digital business.

To achieve this we need flourishing ecosystems and strong technology sectors, spread across the UK. In 2014 there were almost 200,000 digital businesses in the UK. They supported 1.4 million jobs across whole country4 – the fastest growing digital hubs from 2010-14 were Southampton, West Cornwall and Dundee.5 Tech City UK’s Tech North programme is helping to catalyse the development of the tech ecosystem around the seven northern cities of Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and Sunderland – while the Northern Powerhouse’s tech businesses produce £9.9 billion GVA, with Manchester identified as the biggest cluster outside of the South East.6 There are similar programmes underway in other parts of the country, such as Tech East, and Croydon Tech City.

We already have globally leading sectors in artificial intelligence, cyber security, FinTech, gaming, virtual reality and GovTech. And our fusion of digital and creative expertise also gives us the leading edge in many other sectors including design and advertising. Government programmes are supporting the UK’s development of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Autonomous Vehicle technologies. HealthTech and EdTech both provide major underexploited economic opportunities to the UK, as well as helping to create the world-class public services that our people deserve.

To create the right conditions for growth, we will work with independent regulators to encourage innovation-friendly regulation that creates a positive context for the adoption of new technologies as well as giving them democratic legitimacy and a world-leading framework in which to operate, from drones to data. At Autumn Statement 2016 we announced that we would invest an additional £4.7 billion by 2020-21 in R&D funding, the biggest increase in public R&D investment of any parliament since 1979, to ensure British business remains at the cutting edge of scientific and technological discovery. Our Industrial Strategy green paper began a consultation on the priority challenges for a new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, which will help the UK capitalise on its strengths in science and innovation such as robotics, clean energy and biotechnology. We welcome the work of Professor Dame Wendy Hall, Regius Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton, and Jerome Pesenti, Chief Executive of BenevolentTech, who will undertake a review of how we can create the conditions for the artificial intelligence industry to thrive and grow in the UK.

The UK is already a world centre for finance, and home to a great deal of investment finance. Overall, investment in UK technology businesses is buoyant. A record £1.57 billion of equity finance was invested in the digital sectors in 2015, more than four times the level of investment in 2011. We want to see this continue, and we have announced a number of steps to help businesses to secure the finance they need to grow throughout their life. In addition to these actions, we will work to establish a network of UK Tech Hubs in five developing countries. Working alongside the existing hub in Israel, these hubs will boost our impact in emerging digital economies around the world.

Read more about the digital sectors.

Helping every British business become a digital business

The UK’s global competitiveness will increasingly depend on not just a flourishing digital sector, but on all our businesses using the best digital technology and data to drive innovation and productivity. We need to help all businesses become as productive and competitive as those who are in the vanguard: adopting digital technologies will be crucial to this. To make sure businesses have the knowledge and means to access this technology, we will work to focus existing initiatives, and plug gaps where there are specific challenges. On top of the skills and infrastructure improvements already outlined, at Autumn Statement 2016 we announced £13 million funding to create a private sector-led Productivity Council. The Council will drive engagement to improve productivity across the economy, including through appropriate use of digital technologies. We want to help more UK businesses export, including by negotiating preferential rates with a number of e-marketplaces that are exclusive to government-referred clients.

Read more about the wider economy.

Making the UK the safest place in the world to live and work online

A safe and secure cyberspace is an essential requirement for an inclusive, prosperous digital economy. It will give people the confidence to be part of the digital world, as well as giving the UK a significant competitive advantage.

To secure our technology, data and networks from the many threats they face and to keep our businesses, citizens and public services protected, we will support the National Cyber Security Centre to provide a single point of contact for companies, particularly those that form part of Britain’s ‘critical national infrastructure’. And we will introduce a new approach of Active Cyber Defence, using the skills, knowledge and technical expertise of GCHQ working with the country’s ISPs (internet service providers) to provide a new level of protection for British cyberspace. To ensure that the UK has a pipeline of cyber skills that meets its current and future needs we will run a national after-school programme for the most talented students, cyber as well as apprenticeships, and adult retraining.

We also recognise that creating a safe and secure cyberspace for children requires some particular actions. So, to stop children’s exposure to harmful sexualised content online, we will continue to support companies to roll-out family-friendly filters to all broadband customers and introduce age verification controls for access to online pornographic material provided on a commercial basis in the UK.

Read more about a safe and secure cyberspace.

Maintaining the UK government as a world leader in serving its citizens online

From personalised services in health, to safer care for the elderly at home, to tailored learning in education and access to culture – digital tools, techniques and technologies give us more opportunities than ever before to improve the vital public services on which we all rely.

The UK is already a world leader in digital government,7 but we want to go further and faster. The new Government Transformation Strategy published on 9 February 2017 sets out our intention to serve the citizens and businesses of the UK with a better, more coherent experience when using government services online – one that meets the raised expectations set by the many other digital services and tools they use every day. So, we will continue to develop single cross-government platform services, including by working towards 25 million GOV.UK Verify users by 2020 and adopting new services onto the government’s GOV.UK Pay and GOV.UK Notify platforms.

We will build on the ‘Government as a Platform’ concept, ensuring we make greater reuse of platforms and components across government. We will also continue to move towards common technology, ensuring that where it is right we are consuming commodity hardware or cloud-based software instead of building something that is needlessly government specific.

We will also continue to work, across government and the public sector, to harness the potential of digital to radically improve the efficiency of our public services – enabling us to provide a better service to citizens and service users at a lower cost. In education, for example, we will address the barriers faced by schools in regions not connected to appropriate digital infrastructure and we will invest in the Network of Teaching Excellence in Computer Science to help teachers and school leaders build their knowledge and understanding of technology. In transport, we will make our infrastructure smarter, more accessible and more convenient for passengers. At Autumn Statement 2016 we announced that the National Productivity Investment Fund would allocate £450 million from 2018-19 to 2020-21 to trial digital signalling technology on the rail network. And in policing, we will enable police officers to use biometric applications to match fingerprint and DNA from scenes of crime and return results including records and alerts to officers over mobile devices at the crime scene.

Read more about digital government.

Unlocking the power of data in the UK economy and improving public confidence in its use

As part of creating the conditions for sustainable growth, we will take the actions needed to make the UK a world-leading data-driven economy, where data fuels economic and social opportunities for everyone, and where people can trust that their data is being used appropriately.

Data is a global commodity and we need to ensure that our businesses can continue to compete and communicate effectively around the world. To maintain our position at the forefront of the data revolution, we will implement the General Data Protection Regulation by May 2018. This will ensure a shared and higher standard of protection for consumers and their data.

Read more about data.

A framework for action

The digital economy moves quickly, and so must we. In this strategy we set out our areas of focus, and the actions we will take now. But our strategy is a framework, not a single document. In our Industrial Strategy green paper, we highlighted the importance of strong business leadership to the success of sectoral policies in the UK and elsewhere. So we proposed an ‘open door’ challenge to industry to come to government with proposals to transform their sectors through ‘sector deals’. The door is open to our digital industries as it is to others, and, as we said in the green paper, we want to hear how government and industry can collaborate to enable growth in new sectors of the future that emerge around new technologies and new business models.

This digital strategy is therefore a first statement in an ongoing conversation between digital businesses and government: as we develop our industrial and digital strategies, we will continue to build on that conversation and to strengthen our support. To facilitate this, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will convene a forum for government and the tech community to work together to support the growth of the UK digital economy. The plans and proposals outlined in this strategy, and those we will develop together over the coming years, will deliver a thriving, inclusive, outward-looking digital economy in the UK, with the benefits and opportunities spread across every region, and every community. By putting each of the elements of this strategy in place, we will cement our position as a world-leading digital economy and ensure it works for everyone.

This is a strategy for the whole of the UK. The digital revolution is not limited to one place or idea – it is penetrating the length and breadth of the UK, from Cornwall to the Highlands, from Wales to Northern Ireland, and we are determined to ensure that nowhere is left behind. In Glasgow, the city council is changing the way we run and think about cities, exploring how we can use technology to make our streets safer and to save and generate energy. In South Wales, collaborative communities of digital entrepreneurs such as Method 4 and Welsh ICE have put the region on the map as a hotspot for tech innovation. Belfast is a leader in cyber security. It is these numerous, diverse centres of creativity and innovation that will underpin our digital future. We will work with the devolved administrations across the UK to champion digital success wherever we find it, and work together to ensure that the benefits of digital are felt across the country.

A modern Industrial Strategy

The Industrial Strategy green paper published on 23 January 2017 sets out the following 10 pillars on which to build a new Industrial Strategy. Each of these has a strong digital component which government will ensure is leveraged as we develop the new Industrial Strategy.

  1. Science, research and innovation, where we must become a more innovative economy, and do more to commercialise our world leading science base to deliver growth across the UK
  2. Skills, where we must help people and businesses to thrive by ensuring everyone has the basic skills needed in a modern economy; by building a new system of Technical Education to benefit the half the population who do not go to university, boosting STEM skills and numeracy, and raising skill levels in lagging areas
  3. Infrastructure, where we must upgrade our performance on digital, energy, and transport infrastructure, and must better align central government infrastructure investment with local growth priorities
  4. Supporting businesses to start and grow, where we must ensure that businesses across the UK can access the finance and management skills they need to grow; and create the conditions to enable firms to invest for the long term
  5. Procurement policy, where strategic government procurement can drive innovation and enable the development of UK supply chains
  6. Trade and inward investment policy, where government policy can help boost productivity and growth across our economy including by increasing competition and helping to bring new ways of doing things to the UK
  7. Affordable energy and clean growth, where we need to ensure that we both keep costs down for businesses, and secure the economic benefits of the transition to a low carbon economy
  8. Sectoral policies, where we must both build on our areas of competitive advantage, and help new sectors to flourish, in many cases challenging existing institutions and incumbents
  9. Spreading growth across the country, whether it is investing in key infrastructure projects to unlock growth, increasing skill levels, or backing local innovation strengths, the Industrial Strategy will create a framework to build on the particular strengths of different places and address factors that hold places back
  10. Creating the right institutional framework, in some places and sectors there may be missing institutions which we could create, or existing ones we could strengthen: be they local educational institutions, trade associations or financial networks

Note: What do we mean by the ‘digital sectors’ and ‘digital economy’?

The definition of digital sector used throughout this document was developed by the OECD using the UN Standard Industrial Classifications (SICs) and has the advantage of international comparability. The ‘digital sector’ can be measured by the output and employment of the industries within it.

The OECD identifies the activities of digital sectors (Information, Communication and Technology (ICT)) as follows: “The production (goods and services) of a candidate industry must primarily be intended to fulfil or enable the function of information processing and communication by electronic means, including transmission and display.” However, there are many people working in digital occupations which are not within digital sectors and many more making use of digital technology to do their work (for example, through e-commerce). This is what the concept of the digital economy encompasses.

For statistical purposes, the government defines the digital economy as “all jobs in the digital sector, as well as all those working in Digital Occupations in non-digital sectors.” However, there is not an internationally accepted definition of the digital economy.