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UK Government launches Digital Strategy to develop world-leading digital economy post-Brexit

The UK’s Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Karen Bradley, launched the UK Government’s Digital Strategy (the ‘Strategy’) on 1 March 2017; the Strategy aims to develop a world-leading digital economy in Britain post-Brexit. The Strategy applies the principles outlined in the Government’s Industrial Strategy Green Paper, released on 23 January 2017, to the digital economy and comprises of seven strands, including making the UK the best place to start and grow a digital business, helping every British business become a digital business and unlocking the power of data in the UK economy.

“It is pleasing to see an express commitment to ‘innovation-friendly regulation.’ Getting that right is going to be key to the UK’s future success in the digital sphere,” said Ben Allgrove, Partner at Baker & McKenzie LLP. The Strategy acknowledges that in order for the UK to become the best place for digital businesses, there must be the right conditions for growth and the Government has announced plans to work with independent UK regulators to have the right rules in place to build a world-leading framework for digital.

“There has been a notable shift from the 2015 draft of the Strategy,” notes Louise Eldridge, Partner at Bristows LLP. “The 2015 draft recognised the importance of digital talent from outside of the UK and gave consideration to a long list of proposals for new tech visas to encourage talent to the UK. The new strategy is a post-Brexit vision of upskilling the UK workforce to address the existing skills shortage that arguably is only likely to be exacerbated if the free movement of people is curtailed.” 

However, the Strategy has been criticised by industry experts for not going far enough. Chris Pennell, Analyst at Ovum, believes that “there is not enough detail on how the Government will support existing industries that are not normally reliant on technology but can benefit from developments around automation, artificial intelligence (‘AI’) and use of data.”

The creation of a fund of £17.3 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (‘EPSRC’) was also confirmed in the Strategy, which aims to boost the development of new robotics and AI technologies in universities across the UK. Vikram Khurana, Senior Associate at Bristows LLP, said that such a focus on robotics and AI is promising, and indicates “the Government is starting to match the level of support already being provided by other national governments in this strategic emerging technology.” 

The Strategy also contains a section on digital skills and inclusion, including a new Digital Skills Partnership (the ‘Partnership’) that will bring together local governments, businesses and technology companies to help close the digital skills gap. Lloyds Banking Group and Barclays are amongst a number of organisations who have committed to extending the remit of their digital skills programmes in support of the Strategy and the Partnership.

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