If you follow me on Twitter you will have seen a flurry of activity last Wednesday when I was at the launch of the Technology Manifesto by Policy Exchange. I think it’s a great piece and I really welcome it.
If you haven’t read it I highly recommend it, but I’ll summarise here. There are three key goals in the manifesto:
- Build the most connected and digitally skilled society in the world
- Make Britain the most attractive place outside of Silicon Valley for technology entrepreneurs to start and grow a business
- Use technology and data to develop the smartest Government in the world.
For most of us gathered at Google Campus for the launch, it is just so obvious that digital is going to be a massive part of our future. But I believe (and the manifesto says) that it’s time for technology to be front and centre of policy making too.
The challenge for the policy-makers working towards the 2015 elections is clearly stated: “Technology is no longer peripheral to life, and nor can it be to policymaking. From education to healthcare and from energy to transport, no policy area is immune from its influence.It is the foundation on which Britain’s economic future will depend.”
I’m so glad that the manifesto uses our report “A leading digital nation by 2020: Calculating the cost of delivering online skills for all”. It feels very much as if digital inclusion has grown up. It’s not screaming in the corner for attention – it’s clearly and sensibly articulating it’s needs and perspective.
The first recommendations fit perfectly with our work at Tinder Foundation:
Recommendation 1: Government should set a target for the UK population to have the world’s highest rate of basic digital skills by 2020. This is the most fundamental requirement for increasing internet usage; enhancing social mobility; reducing social isolation for vulnerable people; helping British businesses innovate and lead the world at e-commence; and ensuring that government can reap the benefits of moving to digital transactions. The estimated investment of £875 million thought necessary to achieve this is considerable, but would be offset by savings of around £1.7 billion/year attained by moving to digital transactions. Without this increased funding, around 6.2 million people will remain without basic online skills in 2020.
Recommendation 2. Until the whole population is online, public services delivered by post, telephone or face-to-face should – where appropriate – be replaced with quality, assisted-digital services for the 17% of UK citizens who are currently offline. Government spends around £4 billion each year providing non-digital transactions. Better targeting of assisted digital support, procured from the private and voluntary sector, could save £2.7 billion from this budget.
And I was glad to see SMEs not left behind either:
Recommendation 18: Government should provide a detailed roadmap on how it will maximise the impact of initiatives to help 1.6 million SMEs transact and sell more online. Government is right to make industry and the third sector take the lead in getting businesses online, but for their work to be effective, those organisations require a clear commitment on the extent of funding by government and a consistent team within Whitehall with which they can collaborate. For the 29% of disconnected business owners who are not confident internet users, the government should support targeted, locally-delivered, face-to-face basic training programmes around online skills for business.
With about eleven months to go before we elect a new Government, it was clear at the launch that none of the red, yellow or blue politicians representing their parties on stage thought digital was yet be central to their colleagues’ thinking or campaigning.
But that’s 11 months to make the case for digital, and I’ve never been one to say never. I believed Chi Onwurah, Nadhim Zahawi and Julian Huppert when they said they were all working and hoping to raise the profile of digital as a defining element of the 2015-2020 Government.
My personal assessment from the day is that Chi Onwurah and Labour seemed much more on top of this brief. Chi stated in her short speech that she thinks the Government’s current Digital Inclusion strategy is woefully unambitious, and she spoke about the plans of the new Labour Digital Group that is active across a number of key policy strands (and on Twitter at @LabourDigital).
Now it’s up to the Lib Dems and Conservatives to meet this same level of commitment. Julian Huppart was obviously personally passionate about bringing digital to LibDem policies, and Nadhim Zahawi was an extremely interesting speaker on Conservative digital planning. So let’s see what the next 11 months bring.
Our government in 2015 (whoever it may be) should pay attention to the work and thoughts documented in the technology manifesto and ensure that our nation’s digital needs are met to make a strong and inclusive nation by 2020. The manifesto is split into three strands: Individuals; Businesses; and Government. My top tip for all parties is that they’d do well to read the first section particularly carefully – Individuals – because after all, policies should really have people at the heart of them.
One idea from Chi was that all of us – yes, all of us – should email our MPs and ask them what they think the priorities for them will be if they are re-elected next May. I’m going to give that a go – if you do too, let me know and we can compare notes. Watch this space.