Jessica Fino 1 Mar 2017 02:44pm

Government sets out digital strategy for UK economy

The UK will work with companies like Google and Lloyds as part of its digital strategy, offering people digital skills and cyber awareness training

The government launched the initiative on Wednesday and unveiled partnerships with several companies to provide digital skills training for children, charities and SMEs.

It also announced plans to create five international tech hubs in emerging markets in a bid to create and develop partnerships between UK companies and local tech firms.

The secretary of state will lead a new forum for government and the tech community, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will chair a new Business Connectivity Forum.

The government also confirmed the £1bn funding announced during the Autumn Statement, which will be used to improve the UK’s digital connectivity.

Lloyds Banking Group will give face-to-face digital skills training to 2.5 million people, charities and SMEs by 2020, while Barclays will teach basic coding to 45,000 more children and assist one million people with general digital skills and cyber awareness.

Meanwhile, Google agreed to help boost digital skills in seaside towns as part of their commitment of five hours of free digital skills for everyone. The company will launch a summer of skills programme in coastal towns, which is expected to promote tourism and growth in these places.

BT will also expand its Barefoot Computing Project, bringing an extra 500,000 children to develop early computational thinking skills by the end of the 2017/18 academic year.

Under the digital strategy, HP Foundation will bring a free online learning platform, aimed at improving business, IT and digital skills for disadvantaged groups.

Moreover, Accenture will partner with FutureLearn to develop a new national digital skills programme to boost learning through online collaboration.

Karen Bradley, secretary of state for culture, media and sport said, “This digital strategy sets a path to make Britain the best place to start and grow a digital business, trial a new technology, or undertake advanced research as part of the government’s plan to build a modern, dynamic and global trading nation.

“To do that, we will work closely with businesses and others to make sure the benefits and opportunities are spread across the country so nobody is left behind.

“There should be no digital divide - every individual and every business should have the skills and confidence to make the most of digital technology and have easy access to high-quality internet wherever they live, work, travel or learn.”

The government also confirmed it will receive more than £17m in funding to boost its artificial intelligence sector. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) will provide the funding boost to support the development of new robotics and artificial intelligence technologies in universities across the UK.

Mike Cherry, national chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses, said, "The commitment within the Digital Strategy to boost digital skills and confidence to go online is vital, with two in five small businesses believing digital skills are crucial to their future growth.

“Tackling the skills gap across all of those in the workforce needs to begin early, and we welcome the pledge to teach new skills such as coding, to more young people.

“This however cannot be a one-off; free basic digital skills training throughout everyone’s working lives will be just as important for UK business to remain competitive in the global economy.”