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MPs complain of new delay on digital economy strategy



Parliamentary committee chair says there is urgent need for clarity on future direction of developing skills and innovation

The Government’s long overdue digital economy strategy has been delayed again – prompting accusations that it is stuck in “Brexit limbo”.

The blueprint – promised by ministers to tackle basic IT skills gaps that drag down productivity and economic competitiveness – should have been published exactly one year ago.

It was delayed until after the EU referendum in June, but it has now emerged that ministers are still refusing to set a date for its release.

Iain Wight, chair of the Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee, warned that the impasse risked Britain being “left behind” in the digital race.

He said: “The Government’s digital strategy was due last summer, six months later than expected, and we are still waiting.

“The digital economy makes a vital contribution to the UK’s prosperity. It will play an ever larger part in ensuring companies stay relevant to their markets and customers, will create new business models and types of jobs and lift the UK''s productivity and competitiveness.

“Technology and innovation is not standing still and, in the absence of clarity and a strategic focus, Britain will be left behind and our great advantage in the current digital economy will be eroded.

“The Government must not leave the digital economy in limbo for the next two years.”

No date yet

The fresh delay was revealed when the Government finally published its response to a select committee’s report from last summer – and made no mention of a publication date.

Asked to explain the hold-up, ministers ducked the issue, stating: “We are already among the most digitally connected countries in the world with a globally successful digital economy.

“Following the decision of the British people to leave the European Union, we have been engaging closely with the digital industries to understand their priorities, and will continue to do so.”

The original report raised the alarm over a lack of basic digital skills costing the economy £63 billion a year.

It suggested that 5.8 million people have never used the internet, while 12.6 million adults are unable to carry out basic tasks such as writing on social media, making a bank transaction online, using a search engine or solving a problem by watching a video lesson online.

Almost a quarter of all employers say that they will not even interview candidates who do not have basic IT skills, the committee found. And 93% of technology companies claim that the “digital skills gap" affects their commercial operations, with the UK needing 745,000 more workers with digital skills by 2017 to meet rising demand.

Education priority

The report called for schools’ watchdog Ofsted to include the computing curriculum in its inspections and urged the Government to set targets for recruiting teachers in computer science.

Meanwhile, publication of the Government Digital Service’s strategy document has also been subject to a lengthy delay. There have been reports that it is awaiting approval by the 10 Downing Street but in a queue behind Brexit related issues, and is still subject to wrangling about the approach between different forces in the Cabinet Office.

Image from Parliament under Open Parliament Licence

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