The Secretary of State for Digical, Culture Media and Sport, Baroness Morgan, this week laid out the government’s vision for how it plans to ensure technology works for everyone, insisting that the benefits must be felt “widely and fairly”.
She presented the government’s five “deeply connected” principles for making this happen and said that the next five years will be “crucial” for the country.
With the Conservative Party winning a large majority in the general election before Christmas, the government now finds itself in a position to push forward with a more radical agenda than it has been able to in recent years. In addition to this, the Prime Minister has said he is looking to ‘level up’ the country post-Brexit and ensure that any future economic gains (if there are any) will be felt more equally across the UK.
Baroness Morgan said:
DCMS officially became the department for digital in 2017, and even in that short period we have seen huge growth in our digital economy.
Digital is touching more parts of our lives, providing new opportunities and new challenges to grapple with too.
And in this period we have also seen a tech sector that has gone from strength to strength.
She added that last year venture capital investment in UK tech reached a record high of £10.1 billion, up £3 billion from 2018, and that the UK is producing twice as many billion dollar value digital companies as Germany.
Baroness Morgan said:
The power of digital is transforming our economy, our public services, how we learn and connect, the entertainment we enjoy, and the communities we live in - and this pace of change will only intensify in the future.
And we are starting from a very strong foundation - thanks to our country’s world-beating innovators and entrepreneurs and thanks to the investment this Government has made.
But as we look to the future, the question is how do we ensure a thriving economy, driven by world-leading technology, that works to the benefit of all citizens?
Principle 1 - Pro-technology government
The Secretary of State said that the government will be “unashamedly pro-technology” in all that it does, as it believes that digital innovation is a major driver of opportunity, productivity and creativity.
Whilst highlighting again the UK’s strong tech job growth and investment, Baroness Morgan added that the government wants to think about how it can “sustain, intensify and spread” this growth.
She also pointed to the potential of digital to transform public services and the relationship between government and citizens (something that’s been a focus for well over a decade).
Giving a nod to Brexit, Baroness Morgan added:
As we expand our trading relations around the globe, I can assure you that we are passionate about the opportunities provided by digital tech.
And that they will be at the heart of the government’s trade policy in the years ahead.
Principle 2 - Sharing the benefits of technology widely and fairly
As noted above, the Conservatives have placed a big emphasis on distributing economic opportunity and growth outside of London and ‘transforming communities’ across the UK. The Prime Minister has a lot riding on delivering this, post election.
Baroness Morgan said that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is well placed to support this mission, pointing to its work on delivering broadband across the country and its role in regulating digital markets. On this latter point, she said:
But if we are to truly spread the benefits of digital we also need competitive digital markets. So that companies with new services to offer can compete fairly…
And so that consumers get better products and content, cheaper prices and greater choice and transparency.
And alongside this, we need a focus on digital skills, which are an incredible engine of social mobility.
They are now as important to employability and participation in modern Britain as English and maths.
Finally, Morgan also said that diversity in tech is an important agenda for the government, stating that if groups are underrepresented in the tech sector, not only does it rob them of opportunity, but also robs the industry of “the diversity of thought needed”.
Principle 3 - Pro-innovation regulation
On the government’s third principle, the Secretary of State said that users need to feel empowered to make choices over how technology impacts their lives, that companies need to be held responsible for the implications of their choices, and that governments must act where they need to, promoting good and protecting from harm.
As such, the government wants to drive digital growth through “pro-innovation regulation”.
Baroness Morgan said:
We have an incredible opportunity to lead the world in nimble, proportionate and pro-innovation regulation, giving us a competitive advantage at this important time in our history.
So we are developing a new strategic and joined up approach for regulating and governing digital technologies.
Working with industry and across sectors, so our regulations and our regulators are equipped for the digital age.
This includes fostering fair, transparent and ethical online advertising; developing the government’s National Data Strategy; and setting out the government’s response to the Cairncross Review into the sustainability of high quality journalism in the digital age.
Principle 4 - Protecting the vulnerable and ensuring safety and security
The government wants to ensure that online spaces are places where “anyone can feel safe and secure”. Baroness Morgan said:
Although I am optimistic about the power of technology, it cannot be denied that its widespread adoption has brought new threats.
If we cannot be confident that digital technologies are safe and secure, then we will lose the trust that is the lifeblood of any digital economy.
And we will discourage the adoption of the new technologies that are vital if we are to truly unleash Britain’s potential.
We can only keep the benefits of the digital economy - the opportunities for commerce, and the fast flow of transactions and ideas - if we can improve trust and confidence in technology, and tackle what erodes it.
She outlined the government’s Online Harms White Paper, which set out plans for a new statutory duty of care, overseen by an independent regulator, and also pointed to the National Cyber Security Strategy, where £1.9 billion is being invested.
Principle 5 - A free and open Internet
Finally, the government wants to be a global champion of the “multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance”, which a variety of different actors play important roles in how the Internet itself is run.
Baroness Morgan said that the government will “continue to oppose those authoritarian governments that want to bring the management of the Internet under inter-government control”.