Martha Lane Fox, now known by her official title as Baroness of Soho, was appointed the UK Government’s Digital Inclusion Champion by the Labour government of the day in 2009 to head a two year campaign to make the British public more computer literate.
The following year the current Coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats under Prime Minister David Cameron promoted her to become UK Digital Champion and to write a strategy report on how Britain could transition to a digital society.
It was a big ask. There are some 16 million people in the UK who currently lack even the most basic online skills while 7.4 million people have never been online.
Late in 2010 Lane Fox delivered a report – Directgov 2010 and beyond: revolution not evolution – to the Cabinet Office which has informed digital policy making ever since.
But today Lane Fox has stepped down from the Digital Champion status. In her resignation letter to Cameron, she states:
I feel it is now time I step down from that role.
In my capacity as Digital Champion, I hope I have contributed in three ways.
Firstly, my report to [Minister for the Cabinet Office] Francis Maude on the future of Directgov led to the creation of the Government Digital Service and the move to a single domain for all government information. The digital transformation of transactional government services is now well underway, and gov.uk has won
Secondly, Race Online 2012, the campaign you helped launch in Downing Street galvanised the
public, private and charitable sectors to help millions more people online, and was the basis for the
charity Go ON UK that launched last year. Go ON UK is a cross-sector partnership dedicated to
building the nation’s digital skills. With the full backing of the CEOs of our founder partners, we have created nine further digital champions at Board level in the public, charity, and corporate sectors.
Finally, the Champion model has been a success more widely. In 2011, it was adopted right across
Europe, with each Member State appointing their own Champion, overseen by Vice-President
Neelie Kroes. Having one person lead and oversee this agenda is the most effective way to bring
about lasting change.
As Chair of Go ON UK I will focus my efforts on the vital issue of building digital skills. Go ON UK
will of course continue to work closely with the newly created digital inclusion team in GDS, and I
will continue to be a critical friend from the House of Lords.
The Prime Minster was gracious in his response, thanking Lane Fox for the work she’s done over the past few years:
There was also heart-felt appreciation from Mike Bracken, head of the GDS, which is charged with driving the Digital by Default agenda across the UK public sector, who observed that it is impossible to understate the importance of Lane Fox’s report to his organisation:
Martha’s been an inspiration to us here at GDS, and the tremendous impact she’s had right across the civil service is worthy of someone who called for a ‘revolution’.
[Her report] gave government the impetus to assemble this team, and it gave us a mission and a mandate to get on with making world-class, Digital by Default services.
We’re over two years into that job. The work involves people from all around government inspired by Martha to make radical changes to how we deliver public services.
I’m pleased to say that there really is a digital culture right at the heart of government now, and that’s all down to Baroness Lane-Fox.
A good job, inspirationally well done – but still a long way to go.
What Lane Fox has set in motion has to retain the momentum and its energy she has displayed consistently during her time as Digital Champion.
Bracken and his team at GDS have been doing a good job and the mantra of Digital by Default echoes throughout UK government.
But we’re still in such early stages on the road to a digital society.
Just this week Citizens Online, a charity set up to promote digital inclusion, reported that access to internet enabled devices and broadband continue to be the main cause of digital exclusion while the Office of National Statistics last month warned that four million households in the UK are still not connected to the internet.
Lane Fox’s real legacy will come when statistics like that become a thing of the past.
Thank you Martha. Now, over to the rest of us.