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Digital Strategy highlights government role in skills effort



National approach points to new partnerships for building digital skills – and reiterates central elements of Transformation Strategy

Government is to become more deeply involved in developing digital skills in the UK as part of a national strategy released today.

The UK Digital Strategy, published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), also repeats plans for a major investment in artificial intelligence (AI) and reiterates the main platforms of the recently published Transformation Strategy for the use of digital technology in public services.

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Karen Bradley highlighted the plan to build a Digital Skills Partnership, in which government will work with business, charities and voluntary organisations to increase awareness around the skills needed for different jobs and the training options on offer.

Among the plans are a forum, to be led by the minister, for government and the technology community to work together on encouraging innovation and the adoption of digital in the wider economy.

There will also be a Business Connectivity Forum, chaired by a representative of the DCMS, in which local authorities will work with business organisations and communications providers to improve the availability of fast broadband.

Business contributions

Other plans around building skills include: Lloyds Banking Group to give face-to-face training to 2.5 million individuals, charities and small businesses by 2020; Barclays to teach basic coding to 45,000 children and assist up to 1 million people with general digital skills and cyber awareness; a pledge by Google to help boost skills in seaside towns; BT to expand its Barefoot Computing Project to enable 500,000 children to develop computational thinking skills; the HP Foundation to provide a free online learning platform; Accenture to partner with FutureLearn on developing a national programme to boost learning through online collaboration.

“There should be no digital divide - every individual and every business should have the skills and confidence to make the most of digital technology and have easy access to high quality internet wherever they live, work, travel or learn,” Bradley said.

“At the heart of the strategy are steps to ensure everyone can develop the skills they need to thrive in an increasingly digital world and measures to help businesses harness the benefits of innovation.”

“Government has taken the lead in this area and has committed to help adults who lack core digital skills to access training free of charge, similar to the approach taken for literacy and numeracy.”

Transformation efforts

The section of the strategy focused on digital government reiterates the approach outlined in the Transformation Strategy published by the Cabinet Office last month.

This includes a strong element on building skills in the Civil Service, encompassing technology and data specialists, and following up the three key elements of work carried out by the Government Digital Service (GDS).

First of these is to avoid duplication in the development of solutions and to develop new digitally native business processes. Second is to pursue the Government as a Platform concept, aiming to increase the reuse of platforms built by GDS, and move towards more common technology.

Third is to bring together a range of reusable components to make it cheap and easy to assemble digital services. These will come from GDS and government departments.

The document highlights the plans to expand the role of the three platforms developed so far by GDS: GOV.UK Verify for identity assurance, for which there is a target to have 25 million users by 2020; GOV.UK Pay and GOV.UK Notify.

It also confirms plans, indicated by the DCMS last weekend, for a major review into the potential of AI and funding of £17.3 million through the Engineering and Sciences Research Council to support develop the development of the technology.

Data commitments

The strategy repeats the intention for the UK to abide by the EU General Data Protection Regulation when it comes into force next year, and to promote the sharing of data between public authorities through the Digital Economy Bill (DEB), which is currently going through Parliament. Some critics have claimed there is a tension between the two and that the DEB does not provide sufficient safeguards around privacy and consent, but it has been defended by leading Government officials.

It also reiterates the Government’s commitment to open data and to make as much as possible available through APIs. This reflects the Government’s forecast that data will benefit the UK economy by up to £241 billion between 2015-20.

Other elements of the strategy take in building the digital infrastructure, largely through the spread of superfast broadband and the future roll out of 5G mobile networks; encouraging digital start-ups; helping every UK business become digital; and building a safe national cyberspace. The latter largely reflects measures laid out in the National Cyber Security Strategy, published in November of last year.

“This will be a joint effort, and this strategy is just the start,” Bradley added. “I am looking forward to chairing a new Digital Economy Council, working side by side with all of you in the tech community to make our digital economy both stronger and fairer.”

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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