The Digital Opportunity: Make or Break Britain

Today, the Digital Skills Select Committee, of which I have been fortunate enough to be a member for the past year, published its report and recommendations.

The everythingness of the digital opportunity is the fundamental point which we must get across:  training or trade, schooling or skills, education, health or employment, digital will change it all, not in minor, round the edges ways, but fundamentally, irreversibly, often mind blowingly.

To face this opportunity we need the hard and soft infrastructure to enable us as individuals and as a nation to thrive and fulfil our potential.

One of the key infrastructure issues is access to broadband. Currently this is not just flawed by a lack of coverage, particularly in rural areas, there is also a real question of capacity not least in our cities where demand continues to outstrip what service providers can offer.  Broadband must be seen as a utility, be taken as seriously as other utilities and regulated in the same way.

Similarly, in our schools we need to continue our relentless focus on numeracy and literacy but alongside this, as important, we need to set digital skills, digital literacy if you will.  We need the next generation to be numerate and literate but we also need them to be creative, innovative and flexible in this digital landscape.

There is, as ever, a problem with inclusion.  Women, disabled people and older people have a real opportunity but one which is not being realized. One shocking figure is that out of the 4,000 young people studying computer science at A level, fewer than 100 are female, this can’t be allowed to continue. This must be addressed and it is not only about equality and fairness, the report finds that universal digital access could be worth up to £63 billion in additional GDP growth.

Alongside this, apprenticeships, training, careers advice [better termed employment advice or employability] must all stress the digital imperative.

The report calls on the Government to play a leading role, drawing up an ambitious ‘Digital Agenda’ to enable Great Britain to be in the best position to rival the world.  This can’t be overstated and should be led by a Cabinet Minister based in the Cabinet Office.

I have written before about youth unemployment and skills and the importance of overall responsibility for a specific agenda cutting across departments. The success of London 2012 showed what we can achieve when we cut across Whitehall departments and invest responsibility in one person to allow them to achieve a clearly defined goal.

That same level of commitment, pride and passion needs to be sustained if we are to draw up that ‘Digital Agenda’, drive the opportunity and enter an age of innovation, an age of creativity, of production, of leadership, a brilliant bright future for Britain.