New Digital Strategy to make UK a global tech superpower

Tech Minister Chris Philp unveils new UK Digital Strategy at London Tech Week as new data shows the UK has overtaken China for investment in tech startups

  • New single vision from government to grow the digital economy – addressing tech sector skills, investment and infrastructure
  • Measures to keep UK tech sector fit for the future include external review of UK’s computer power and a new expert council to tackle the digital skills gap

The government has unveiled its new plan to grow the economy and create more high-skilled, high wage jobs by cementing the UK as a global tech superpower, building on our position as Europe’s leading destination for starting and growing digital businesses.

Marking the start of London Tech Week, the new UK Digital Strategy launched today brings cross-government tech and digital policies together in one unified roadmap for ensuring digital technology, infrastructure and data drives economic growth and innovation in the coming years. The plan will lead to new jobs, skills and services that benefit and level up the whole of the UK.

It includes bringing tech leaders together in a new Digital Skills Council to tackle the skills gap and a review of the UK’s large-scale computer processing capabilities, vital for powering technologies of the future such as Artificial Intelligence.

New figures released today show more than £12 billion in venture capital funding has been secured by UK tech startups and scaleups so far this year, which is more than the whole of 2020. It puts the UK just behind the US and ahead of China on funding secured by tech startup firms in the year to date .

Since the government launched its first Digital Strategy in 2017 the UK tech sector has boomed – growing over two and a half times faster than the economy as a whole.

Last year a new tech unicorn – private companies valued at $1 billion – was created every eleven days, more than doubling the number of UK unicorns from 2017. As Europe’s leading digital hub, the UK tech sector raised more private capital and saw more public listings than any EU country in 2021.

The new strategy will build on these successes to grow a more innovative, inclusive and competitive digital economy which generates more highly skilled jobs and better choice for consumers across the UK.

Estimates suggest the government’s approach to supporting and strengthening the digital economy could grow the UK tech sector’s annual GVA by an additional £41.5 billion by 2025, and create a further 678,000 jobs.

Digital Minister Chris Philp told a London Tech Week panel event this morning:

“Developed economies face long-term challenges around growth, productivity and real wages. Just as Thatcher unleashed the power of the market to transform our economy in the 1980s, unleashing the power of the tech sector will transform our economy today.

“In the last five years the UK has raced ahead of Europe to become a global tech leader and now we’re setting the course for the future. The Digital Strategy is the roadmap we will follow to strengthen our global position as a science and technology superpower. Our future prosperity and place in the world depends on it.”

The plan cements the government’s ambitions across six areas essential for sustained digital growth:

  • Infrastructure – Rolling out world-class digital infrastructure and a light-touch, pro-growth regulatory regime that protects citizens while encouraging both investment and innovation.
  • Ideas and intellectual property – Stimulating innovation through research and development and growing the UK’s expertise in technologies of the future, including artificial intelligence, semiconductors and quantum computing.
  • Skills and talent – Strengthening the tech talent pipeline with digital skills the economy needs at every stage from school to lifelong learning and a comprehensive suite of visas to attract the brightest minds from around the world.
  • Financing digital growth – Encouraging UK capital including pension funds to be invested in British scale-ups to support long term growth and leading support for innovation through InnovateUK and the British Business Bank.
  • A nationwide approach – Helping businesses in every region take up the latest technologies and spread the benefits of a strong digital economy across the country
  • Global leadership – Collaborating on international digital trade and tech governance systems centred around freedom and openness.

Digital skills

Over eighty per cent of all jobs advertised in the UK now require digital skills, however employers say the lack of available talent is the single biggest factor holding back growth. Estimates suggest the digital skills gap costs the UK economy as much as £63 billion a year in potential GDP.

As part of the government’s ambition to tackle the gap at all levels, a new Digital Skills Council will bring together industry leaders and training experts from Starling, Amazon Web Services and Multiverse. Working directly with employers, the council will encourage investment in employer-led training to upskill workforces. The council – chaired by Digital Minister Chris Philp and Phil Smith CBE FREng, chairman of British semiconductor firm IQE Plc – will look at the issue of digital skills from schools through to lifelong learning. The group will also look at ways the industry can inspire the next generation of talent from a wide range of backgrounds to consider a digital career.

By helping more people access interesting, sustainable, well-paid jobs through a variety of routes, the government’s plans for digital careers will unlock the potential of British businesses and grow the economy by billions of pounds.

The Office for Students has also been announced today as the provider for up to 2,000 scholarships funded by the government to ensure the UK has the advanced digital skills it needs to maintain the country’s leading position in cutting-edge AI and data science. The Office for Students will allocate up to £23 million to universities to fund scholarships starting in 2023. Funding will be available for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds as well as black, women and disabled students to ensure the AI built and used in the UK reflects the make-up of our society. Organisations across the country can play their part in boosting the future AI talent pipeline by match-funding scholarships for the AI and Data Science conversion courses with further information on the Office for Students website.

Compute Review

Over the next decade, many aspects of business and research will be transformed by advanced ‘compute’ – the large-scale processing power, memory, data storage and networks that does the work everyday computers can’t do. It is an enabling technology necessary to maximise the potential from AI, Internet of Things Sensors and quantum computing. Advanced compute capabilities are becoming essential to biology, chemistry, physics, and nearly every other area of research by helping to model the effects of climate change, power the discovery of new drugs and model future pandemics.

Today marks the start of an external review into the future of compute to ensure the UK has the computing capacity it needs to power these changes. The review will be led by world-leading academic in the field of machine learning Professor Zoubin Ghahramani, Vice President of Research at Google and Professor of Information Engineering at the University of Cambridge, and will inform the long-term approach to this important area.

Naomi Weir, CBI Director of Innovation, said:

“We’re glad the government has heard our calls for a single vision for the digital economy, and the importance of streamlined regulation that supports investment and innovation.

“At a time when the country is facing fierce headwinds, in the form of inflation and supply chain challenges, unleashing investment is more crucial than ever. The digital sector is a bright spot in our economy, and an area where we’re punching above our weight internationally.

“We can’t waste a moment in bringing this strategy to life, with action required on skills, regulation, cutting-edge tech adoption, and championing the role of digital trade. Business and the CBI stand ready to work with government to make it happen.”

Julian David, techUK CEO, said:

“Innovation in technology will be essential to deliver the jobs, growth and prosperity the UK needs. techUK welcomes the Digital Strategy which provides an important single vision from Government for the digital economy.

“Delivering this plan will help keep the UK at the vanguard of leading digital economies in an increasingly competitive world for tech. We know what we need to do, now is the time to get on and do it.”