Government is now looking at its digital strategy for the next five years which will set the agenda for the UK and Parliament in that period. It has revealed four headline themes:-
- Unlocking digital growth;
- Transforming government;
- Transforming day to day life;
- Building the foundations.
Curiously, Ed Vaizey (digital economy minister) announced this over Christmas and invited people to challenge the government in these areas. While I’m a little sceptical about the amount of listening attached to this invitation, I thought I would draw up my wish list:-
Unlocking digital growth;
UKTI is already putting a lot of effort into this area, supporting businesses directly and regionally and I suspect the new strategy will eye this. However, we should not underestimate the amount of local authority effort in this area. Bristol is a shining example of where they have appointed a “director of futures” to propel digital business growth and Lincolnshire has used ERDF money to prop-up digital fabrication hubs and offer various digital training events. Universities are also playing their part and are undoubtedly natural innovation incubators.
When I think about fostering innovation I think about authenticity, experimentation and leadership. However, as a business owner I find it most inspiring to speak with successful companies and take stock of what they are doing. What could your local independent shop learn from Amazon?
My challenges would therefore be:-
- Provide funding for knowledge exchange opportunities between digital industries in the UK and foreign countries to foster inside-out and outside-in dynamics.
- To foster new relationships between business and the higher education sector.
- Create the largest and best digital trade/consumer event in Europe here in the UK, taking over from Cebit in Hannover.
- Look at how Libraries and empty public buildings can be repurposed as digital hubs.
This is a biggie. GDS are likely to take the credit on transforming .gov.uk but there’s a lot more to do. For this theme, I present a number of challenges:-
- Reform local government services in the same was as .gov.uk. It’s not a new idea (aka local GDS) but it still blows my mind to think about how much money has been spent on different content management systems across 433 local authorities, yet alone the variation in back office software for the various functions such as highways and planning. Yes, it will be immensely difficult but it will also be massively rewarding. Government doesn’t want to talk about local digital any more but it could probably save a mint just by buying bulk licenses or developing its own suit of free software (e.g. allotment management).
- Create a single customer account. It feels like plans are moving in this direction but I see no coherent solutions. I want a single place where I can view my entire citizenship details from NI record to tax code and NHS record to voting preferences and driving license.
- Reform the Ombudsman service. Ensure that Online Dispute Resolution is default for all agencies.
- One for Parliament: Ensure every piece of draft legislation is put online for public consultation. The Chinese can do it, so why can’t we?
Transforming day to day life
This issue is a bit more difficult to tackle, largely because it requires a multi-agency approach. However, there are some obvious and immediate challenges. For example:-
- Free, patient and visitor WiFi in hospitals (particularly maternity wards) and care homes.
- Digital transformation grants for public digital infrastructure projects such as installing LED lighting, implementing electronic bridge tolls or putting fibre to traffic lights instead of leased lines.
- Continue to fund pubic engagement in science and technology policy.
- Mandate e-ticketing option for transport organisations
- Care more about digital resilience by penalising technology companies for lack of it. For example, implement clawback schemes for domestic digital suppliers. Why should I still pay for my broadband on the days that it’s broken? Why should I suffer losses when I have entrusted personal data to a company who have then held it insecurely? Why has HSBC online banking been down for 2 days now?
- Accelerate the take-up of domestic “Internet of Things” such as smart meters, smart heating systems (e.g. Hive, Nest). Perhaps we need a tax break or personal allowance for owners, landlords and builders when it comes to creating smart homes.
- Reorganise on digital crime by focusing on freedom of information around activity. Digital scams are getting more common and more sophisticated. Action Fraud only deals with reporting phishing or malware – not dodgy eBay traders or fake websites. The telephone preference service has failed and cyber trolling is on the increase. Moreover, data protection rules are being cited too frequently against perpetrators. We need a system that will tackle criminals from beyond our jurisdiction and put information back into the hands of victims. For example, if I am a landlord why can’t I check if my prospective tenants have previous squatting convictions or been involved in multiple personal injury insurance claims? If I am a vehicle owner, why can’t I check the address of the registered keeper without justification? Data on dubious people needs to come out of businesses and police stations and into the public domain.
Building the foundations.
Public spending on digital skills is justifiable but public spending on private infrastructure is always difficult. I wonder how much of the £1.7bn BDUK programme to roll-out superfast broadband has gone to BT? Sadly, now that privatisation is widespread, we cannot get back nationalised services or their benefits. My challenges are therefore skill focused, largely because I don’t think that digital inclusion is a very interesting problem any more:-
- Co-invest in the development of a high speed cellular network infrastructure in a similar way to BDUK. This really is the key to accessing digital services by public agencies. For example, just think how much better a tree inspector could do his job if he could retrieve information and inspect a tree on his rugged computer. Do we need to put a mast on all public buildings?
- Give every child born in the UK their own free domain name (.me.uk) – for life.
- Create a geographical-based email address for every physical address in the UK (just think of the possibilities!).
- Invest in free digital resources to support the national curriculum such as literacy and numeracy apps and eBooks.
- Improve the school information regulations which deal with information on school websites to include the requirement for pupils to be involved in generating and maintaining content. Suggest a framework for digital engagement with parents, such as using SMS or eNewsletters
My brain hurts thinking about this as there are so many things Gov.UK could and should be doing. I’ll be very surprised if there isn’t a draft strategy ready to go, however.