Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey on how Government is seeking ideas from public and industry on the UK’s digital strategy

In 2010, a revolution began. Changes were afoot in east London as a cluster of tech start ups began a digital transformation. Tech City UK was born and in the last five years, the UK’s digital economy has changed beyond recognition – and in ways few people would have predicted.

Every part of the UK economy and our lives has been digitised – from how we shop and entertain ourselves to the way we travel to work and manage our health.

This digital fever exploded from the cluster in east London, and has spread to every part of the country, making the UK truly a ‘Tech Nation’ with more than 70 per cent of digital businesses now based outside of the capital. We’re home to thriving digital companies like SwiftKeyTransferWiseand onefinestay.

UK plc is one of the most developed digital economies in the world – it’s boosted by around £145 billion a year from digital technology, with the average British person spending around £1,500 online for goods each year.

This revolution has been led by entrepreneurs but supported by Government in creating the right environment for ideas and businesses to flourish. Tech City UK has done sterling work in supporting businesses who are embracing the technological revolution, and we’ve changed the way we operate in Government too, including by establishing the world-leading Government Digital Service.

We’ve helped accelerate digital advancements, including opening up more than 20,000 government held data sources to the world, now used to underpin apps like CityMapper and Zoopla. And we’re making it easier for smaller businesses to bid for government contracts and sell services to the public sector via the Digital Marketplace we have created.

What next?

As some of you who follow me on Twitter know, I’m always shouting about success – be that another community we’ve connected to superfast broadband or new tech start-up we’ve supported. But we’re not complacent.

We’ve built a great base — but we need to work hard to make sure we continue to take advantage of the benefits digital transformation has to offer, as an economy and as a society. Other countries are hot on our heels but we want the UK to be synonymous with digital – a place where digital technologies transform day-to-day life, the economy and government.

The potential impact of this transformation is profound.

It might mean that the best educators from around the world are made accessible to all. That we can build better houses, faster. That more power is given to the patient, and the care we provide for our elderly and sick is improved and made more affordable. We can use technology to continue to build a new version of government – one which gives citizens the power to take control of the way they interact with the state. In fighting crime, we use data analytics to help predict crime more accurately.

Early next year, we’ll set out a new Digital Strategy for the UK, looking to the next five years. Working with colleagues across government it will set the agenda for the rest of the Parliament on digital, so that the UK continues to lead the way.

When people want to start a digital business, trial new ways of working or invest in cutting-edge technology, we want them to choose the UK. This is about nurturing the digital frontier, firmly planting our stake in the digital global market, and getting the world to buy into our success. This revolution is here to stay, and the UK as the ‘Tech Nation’ is the future we want to be building.

 The key ingredients for success

There are four key things we need to get this right:

1 – Unlocking digital growth

I want the UK to be the default place entrepreneurs want to start new digital business over any other tech hub in the world from Silicon Valley to Shanghai, scaling up to be global brands. From fintech to the sharing economy, we’ve already done much to make sure our regulations keep pace with technology, but simply updating regulations is not enough.

We need to take bold steps to create an open and flexible environment for digital innovation that crosses country borders. This means pushing for the completion of the Digital Single Market in Europe, which could create a €415 billion boost of economic growth for the region.

But this isn’t even just about the ‘tech’ sector. Every business can benefit from using digital technology – from hairdressers and corner shops to the big car makers, and everything in between. So how can we make sure we support businesses to make the most of this potential?

2 – Transforming government

The UK is already seen as a pioneer in digital government – when the US government created they copied our model. But government services need to be as good as the best consumer services. My colleague Matt Hancock is bringing renewed energy to this agenda, driving a transformation to create what he calls a ‘smartphone state’. Renewing your passport should be as easy as buying a book online, so what more can we do to make sure interacting with government is as simple and seamless as possible?

3 – Transforming day to day life

New technologies are changing every aspect of our lives. We need to make sure that wherever government is involved – as the service provider, regulator, or a major buyer – we are making the most of it.

In education, universities and colleges are already using massive open online courses – MOOCs as they’re called – so lectures and courses can reach a much wider audience, costing less. Could schools benefit from similar innovations?

In the NHS, it’s already moving from a largely paper-based system to a digital-by-default. What more can we do to make our health system more efficient and joined up, so that our amazing doctors and nurses can spend more time saving lives and improving care?

From driverless cars to deliveries by drone – the future imagined by far-fetched science fiction films from only a few years ago is rapidly coming true. How can we make sure the UK is at the cutting edge of these developments?

4 – Building the foundations

We need to get the fundamental areas right to make everything else possible.

On connectivity we’re on track to deliver superfast broadband to 95 per cent of the UK by the end of 2017 – and we’re planning to make it a legal right for every home and business in the UK to request fast broadband. But fixed broadband is just part of the solution. We’re working to make Internet access ubiquitous, so everyone can access it whenever and wherever they need it.

As more of our lives are conducted online, the need to keep ourselves safe from criminals and terrorists increases. But we mustn’t let these real dangers prevent us from accessing all the benefits of a digital economy. That’s why we’re spending £1.9 billion over the next five years through the National Cyber Security Programme.

Given digital is in everything, digital skills are increasingly vital for everyone’s lives. It’s estimated around 90% of all jobs over the next 20 years will require some level of digital skills, so we need to make sure they’re at the heart of our education system, and that people can keep their skills updated throughout their lives.

Challenge us

Come 2020, undoubtedly the UK landscape will have changed to be firmly in the digital age. But how do you want to shape that? Government has ideas and ambitions but as Tech City UK back in 2010 shows, the ideas are out there. So challenge us – push us to do more. Let’s show the rest of the world how it’s done.

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