Category Archives: News

10 Year Anniversary of London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games

It is ten years since the Olympic and Paralympic Games came to London. Chris was Director of Paralympic Integration at London 2012 for what he describes as a “golden summer of sport” and the International Paralympic Committee Chairman, Sir Philip Craven, described as “the greatest Paralympic Games ever”.

There will be so many magical moments to remember and celebrate and Chris will be sharing his own recollections on his Facebook page – please do tune in and share your own memories of 2012.

One of those special moments is the anniversary of the first broadcast of ground-breaking Channel 4 film Meet the Superhumans.

Broadcast Partner – Channel 4

All the UK broadcasters had been keen to cover the Paralympic Games, and had all offered serious production schedules and equally serious financial packages. So why was Channel 4 chosen to be the Paralympic broadcast partner?

Chris has spoken extensively about the fact that Channel 4 shared his vision of what the Games could be, should be, and – with their support – would be, in the summer of 2012. The ambition was not to nudge the dial or do a little bit better than before, the ambition was to create an entirely new Paralympic Paradigm. Channel 4 understood this.

Meet the Superhumans, was ground-breaking, game-changing, magic for many reasons but that 7 seconds in the middle was absolutely key. 7 seconds in which the more familiar sports marketing images were interrupted to show a military explosion, a neonatal scan, a car crash. Controversial during production, but Chris argues absolutely essential to connect the human to the superhuman.

If you don’t have lived experience of disability it is all to easy to think of disability as disconnected. Other. Not for you. This film needed to make people feel connected. It needed people to feel like the Paralympic Games was for them, for everyone and it worked.

Meet the Superhumans was incredibly successful, award-winning, mind-changing, history-making brilliant TV. And Channel 4 are still doing it. The films produced for Rio and Tokyo are still winning hearts, minds and awards and Channel 4, the nation’s Paralympic broadcaster, has now broadcast thirteen hundred hours of Paralympic broadcast. Every moment a moment to cherish, a moment to inspire change.

An entirely new Paralympic Paradigm.

Lord Chris Holmes introducing ‘Meet the Superhumans’ at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, July 2022

“EXACTLY TEN YEARS AGO…. July 17th 2012. We had sold all the Paralympic tickets. We needed a massive moment to drive broadcasting audiences in the hundreds of millions. July 17 2012 9PM we showed a film on 76 of the UK TV stations….”

Lord Chris Holmes, July 2022

London 2012 Exhibition at the Olympic Park

In collaboration with the London Legacy Corporation, the Lee Valley VeloPark and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund the Paralympic Heritage Trust has created an an amazing exhibition that celebrates the history of the British Paralympic Movement, bringing stories of human endeavour to life.

The National Paralympic Heritage Trust was established in July 2015 to protect and share British Paralympic Heritage. The Trust runs a Heritage Centre at Stoke Mandeville Stadium, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire as well as touring exhibitions at sporting and heritage events across Britain. The Trust is also involved in cataloguing the Paralympic collection, important work that is still in progress with a collection of well over 10,000 items. Some of these items are on display at the exhibition.

Chris visited the exhibition with Trust CEO Vicky Hop-Walker who talked him through the exhibition and the various exhibits, including a jacket from the Paralympic opening ceremony and the cycling gloves and shoes worn by para-cyclist Neil Fachie when he won gold. The opening ceremony jacket was designed by international costume designer Tahra Zafar and is decorated with text from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was a central theme of the Paralympic opening ceremony. One of the petals that made up the Olympic and Paralympic Cauldron at the London 2012 Games is also displayed. The petals, designed by Thomas Heatherwick, represent each participating nation, 204 for the Olympics and 164 for the Paralympics. The exhibition is completely free and open to the public throughout August and September.

From Paralympics to Parliament

One of the phrases being promoted in this anniversary year is ‘Pass the Baton’. Chris is passionate about maintaining the legacy of the Paralympic Games and one of the ways in which he continues working to promote diversity, inclusion and accessibility is through his work in Parliament. He is one of a small group of ex-Olympic and Paralympic athletes who are active in the House of Lords. Lord Campbell, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Baroness Masham, Lord Moynihan and Chris talk about their Paralympic experiences and how it informs their work in the Lords in this video produced by the House of Lords to mark the Tokyo Games. Chris particularly highlights his hope that the London 2012 Paralympic Games helped to transform opportunities for and attitudes towards disabled people.

Olympics and Paralympic Games | House of Lords

Advising the Civil Service on Disability

This month (December 2021) Chris took part in a conversation on disability and leadership with civil service disability champion Sarah Healey. The event was hosted by the Treasury, chaired by Katharine Braddick and Will Garton and open to all departments. There was a great turn out and quality discussion which Chris then wrote about for Civil Service Magazine as ‘five suggestions for removing barriers to disabled people in the civil service‘.

Chris started by explaining his own experience of disability began when he lost his sight, age 14. Since then he has been involved in the Paralympic movement (both as a swimmer and later a director at London 2012) and has served as a non-executive director at the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Channel 4. As a parliamentarian his policy interest spans departments but can be best summarised as a focus on inclusion and digital technologies for the public good. Chris has also advised the civil service on diversity and written an independent review for the Cabinet Office on how to open up public appointments to disabled people.

One observation made during the discussion was about the vast number of reports that are produced within the civil service setting out how to remove barriers for disabled people, often with a heavy focus on the disabled individuals, whether that be development programmes, mentoring, networks and so on. Whilst many of these recommendations may well be useful they are heavily skewed towards looking at the disabled people as both the problem and the way to fix the problem. The other, far more effective, way to approach this challenge is through addressing the behaviours and culture of the organisation and individuals within it.

With this in mind Chris set out five practical suggestions that we can all consider doing to remove barriers to disabled people….

Civil Service World Magazine, Five suggestions for removing barriers to disabled people in the civil service, Lord Chris Holmes, 3rd December 2021

Chris’s fintech (financial technology) interviews

Chris has been involved in fintech (financial technology) as a policy area since the All-Party Group on Fintech, of which he is Vice-Chair, was set up to raise awareness of fintech in Parliament. There has been much progress between then and now and a particular milestone was the publication in February 2021 of the Kalifa Review.

2020 was such an extraordinary year, a year of incredible suffering and turmoil, Covid-19 turned life as we know it upside down and my heart goes out to all who have been affected. But it was also a year in which technological innovation and digital platforms came to the fore, particularly in financial services.

It seemed an ideal time to talk to some of the most influential people from this world of fintech about what is going on and over the first five months of 2021, Chris sat down with five fintech figures to ask five questions in five minutes, or thereabouts!

The interviews looked back at 2020, considered the Kalifa review, the role of fintech in improving financial inclusion and predictions for 2021. Interviewees were: January, Charlotte Crosswell (CEO of Innovate Finance) February, Adam Afriye MP (Founder and Chair of Fintech APPG) March, Julia Streets (CEO Streets Consulting Ltd.) April, Simon Taylor (Co-Founder 11:FS) and May, Kay Swinburne (Vice Chair of Financial Services at KPMG).

Chris has summarised the conversations below and the full video interviews and transcripts are available on Chris’s blog.

2020, a good year for fintech?

Reflecting on those conversations now, one of the key points of consensus was on what a great year for fintech 2020 had been. The superlatives ranged from “phenomenal” to “stellar” to “game-changing” and there were some impressive stats; 6 million people downloaded their banking app for the first time, in the first month of the crisis and, despite initial hesitation over funding, the number of deals increased from around two hundred and nine to around two hundred and twenty-nine as well as overall investments up from about two and a half billion to about three and a half billion. Significantly, as Simon said, the “macro trends of everybody being at home shunted digital forward at least a decade”. The pandemic accelerated trends that were already happening but certainly pushed many more people who may have been nervous about adopting online banking or digital payments into doing so, including Kay Swinburne’s 80-year-old mother. Julia explained beautifully about why that means fintech has proved its value;

“it has been an enormous enabler in helping people to take control of what matters to them. Whether it’s members of the population just wanting to have control of their finances and know where their money is and therefore what they do with it – how they can engage with the banking system in a way they probably have never done it before – and then also in terms of businesses just continuing to trade and continuing to exist.”

Julia Streets, Fintech Figures Interview with Lord Holmes

The Kalifa Review

The Kalifa Review provided an excellent focus on the key challenges and opportunities for the UK fintech sector. Charlotte and Kay had both been directly involved in producing the report and Julia hosted the launch event. The broad scope of the review, hundreds of contributors, and an objective to consider the whole ecosystem was welcome. Recommendations were made across five areas: policy & regulation, skills, investment, international and also national connectivity.

Another area of consensus during my conversations was that the Government have done a great job so far in creating a supportive regulatory environment for fintech start-ups. The Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) sandbox in particular has been a world class tool for testing and developing early stage fintech businesses, but now there is a real need to address the ‘scale up challenge’. One suggestion, to extend the FCA sandbox for companies that are ready to scale up, was a specific recommendation in the Kalifa Review and the Chancellor has already responded by setting out the FCA’s actions to deliver this ‘regulatory scalebox’.

Another point made more than once was the need for properly joined up, cross-government working. It is hoped that the Chancellor’s commitment to another of the Review’s recommendations; a Centre for Finance, Innovation and Technology, will create this kind of cross departmental impetus but as Simon said getting from implementation to delivery will be key. In a similar vein Kay argued that

“the biggest thing government can do right now is to deliver on […] digital ID in particular.”

Kay Swinburne, Fintech Figures Interview with Lord Holmes

Other areas highlighted were central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) and skills, from both a domestic perspective “thinking about different ways we can help people pivot their skills and retrain across the UK” but also internationally. Again, two areas in which the Chancellor has already made specific commitments in response to Review recommendations. Only proving how well-informed and prescient my fintech figures are.

What role for fintech in eradicating financial exclusion?

I asked everyone about the role fintech can play in eradicating financial exclusion. Responses rightly identified the way technology has facilitated access to basic payments and basic financial services, in particular the potential for reduced costs as a result of innovation in both products and processes, for example, alternative credit ratings. Adam pointed out that when it comes to inclusion

“it is not just about having a bank account, it is also about how does the government, how do Local Authorities reach those who may not be on their radar when it comes to traditional banking routes?”

Adam Afriye MP, Fintech Figures Interview with Lord Holmes

It is precisely these questions that we must be asking in order to ensure we really do address this most pernicious of problems and “make sure it is a basic human right to have access to the services many of us take for granted.” (Kay)

2021, a good year for fintech?

Finally, when asking what 2021 held in store, there was no shortage of optimism.

The first two weeks of January alone saw investment hit 20% of 2020 total investment.

Charlotte Crosswell, Fintech Figures Interview with Lord Holmes

20% in 2 weeks was an excellent start and predictions for 2021 ranged from “a great year for fintech”, to “one of the best years ever”, to “phenomenal”. As Simon said,

“with fintech moving – beyond internet banks and changes to user experience – into every part of financial services (what Charlotte called the start of ‘phase 2’) it’s exciting for the market, it’s exciting for customers and it’s exciting for society.”

Simon Taylor, Fintech Figures Interview with Lord Holmes

Financial Services Bill: Cashback Amendment to become Law

Chris in the House of Lords Chamber, standing to speak in Financial Services Bill debate. Wearing a covid facemask.
Lord Chris Holmes speaking in Financial Services Bill Debate in the House of Lords

Chris was heavily involved in the Financial Services Bill as it made its way through the House of Lords. The Bill received Royal Assent, becoming an Act of Parliament on 29 April 2021. At both committee and report stage Chris put forward several amendments, all broadly with the aim of improving financial inclusion and promoting innovation and fintech. He has written about all the amendments on his blog.

One final amendment, put forward by Chris and similar to a previous amendment regarding a review for cashback without purchase. The new amendment was reworded but with the same aim – of supporting access to cash by allowing businesses provide cashback without purchase.

Around eight million people still rely on cash – around 17% of the UK population – according to the Access For Cash review led by chair of Innovate Finance Natalie Ceeney CBE. 

But the country faces an access-to-cash crisis due to thousands of free ATMs and bank branches closing in recent years. This pattern has accelerated during the pandemic, prompting concern that many people could be cut off from accessing their money. 

This amendment provides that, in certain circumstances, the provision of cash does not constitute a “payment service” for the purposes of the Payment Services Regulations 2017. Persons would no longer have to be authorised by, or registered with, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in order to provide that service.

Speaking for the Government, when accepting the amendment into the Bill, Lord True said:

These amendments introduce an exemption for cashback without a purchase, such that it will no longer be a regulated payment service. Under the current legislation, which derives from the EU’s second payment services directive, if a business or its agent, such as a corner shop or supermarket, wanted to offer you cashback without requiring you to make a purchase, it would have to be authorised or registered with the FCA to give you cash from your own accounts. That is a significant burden for even the largest of retailers, let alone small, local shops along the various high streets across the UK.

This amendment removes this requirement; it will take effect two months after Royal Assent. From that point, industry will have discretion to make the service available across the United Kingdom. Where the service is offered, customers will be able to walk into a local business that wishes to participate, such as a corner shop, café or pub, and withdraw cash without having to make an accompanying purchase.

Lord True, Financial Services Bill, 19 April 2021

Cash still matters, and it matters materially to millions. It is a key part of what it means to have a cash-enabled, easily accessed economy across the UK. It adds to financial inclusion. More than that, it adds to complete social inclusion.

Chris Holmes

We all need to think innovatively about how we can do more to enable, empower and unleash true financial inclusion across the UK. It matters economically, socially and psychologically. If we can enable it, it can address so many of the issues that have dogged our nations for decades.

Chris Holmes

I thank all noble Lords who contributed to the debate on this amendment and and I thank, particularly, the Minister and Treasury officials for their support and making this important change to the Bill.


The Sun, New law to force shops to give cashback to customers without buying anything set to get go-ahead today.

This is Money, By Jeff Prestige for The Mail on Sunday, People could get cashback from local retailers without first having to buy something under new proposal.

Retail Gazette, Cashback without purchase to be allowed by shops after post-Brexit law change  

City AM, Post-Brexit law change: Cashback without purchase to be allowed across UK

ACS, ACS: Government Supports Amendment to Introduce Cashback Without Purchase  

Your Money, New legislation to allow cashback without purchase

Money Expert, New Legislation to Permit Cashback Without Purchase

Report Stage Amendments:

Digital ID, Open Finance, Digital Infrastructure and Digital Payments

Bank of England and Financial Inclusion

Japan Sports Stories Podcast

Chris was delighted to sit down with the makers of Japan Sports Stories, a fortnightly podcast that explores the untold stories of Japan and Japanese Sport in the run up to the Olympic Games.

Entitled ‘How to Make a Paralympic Games’, Chris’s episode looks at what made the London games so successful and what Tokyo needs to do to maintain that momentum.

Chris has enjoyed a long association with the Paralympic Games under many guises. He has been called Britain’s most successful Paralympic swimmer, winning a total of nine golds, five silvers and a bronze across four Games.

Following his retirement from swimming Chris’s involvement with the Games continued as part of the bid team and then as Director of Paralympic Integration at London 2012 and now as Deputy Chair of Channel 4 – as Channel 4 continue a longstanding commitment to Paralympic sport securing the broadcast rights for both Tokyo and Paris 2024.

Tokyo 2020 comes on the back of a Paralympic Games that was almost cancelled due to a lack of funding and poor management. Just years earlier, London has been hailed as a huge success with over double the crowds of the games before it and an enormous rise in public and media backing. 

As a key architect of the success of the London 2012 Paralympic Games Chris talks about his role as Director of Integration, the overall approach to the games, why inclusion matters and, of course, his love of deep fried tempura!

New report finds lack of progress on govt diversity commitments.

Two years after Lord Holmes Review into opening up public appointments to disabled people a progress report finds recommendations and Diversity Action Plan still to be implemented.

Today, 3rd December 2020, at an online event attended by Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden MP, Chris launched a new report that highlighted the need for action to implement government diversity commitments.

This ‘progress report’ comes exactly two years after the Holmes Review into opening up public appointments to disabled people was published on 3rd December 2018. The original 2018 review analysed the barriers, blockers, and bias which resulted – at that time – in just 180 out of around 6,000 public appointments being held by disabled people.

The 2018 review set out 29 clear, practical and achievable recommendations, all of which were accepted in principle by the Government at the time. Two years on, this report examines how many of those recommendations have been fully incorporated into the operation of the public appointments process and what impact this has had on the number of disabled people applying for and becoming public appointees.

Public appointments are significant positions that have an impact on all our lives but are not, perhaps, well known or understood. Collectively public appointees are responsible for well over £200 billion of public funds administered through over 500 bodies across, for example, healthcare, education, sport and the arts, energy, security and defence.

This two years on ‘progress report’ considered the original recommendations, traced those recommendations so far as they were reflected in the Government’s Diversity Action Plan 2019 and tried, as far as is possible, to assess whether those commitments have been achieved and where further effort is still needed.

Disappointingly, the figures for new appointments and reappointments declaring a disability have fallen each year and there has been a significant lack of progress in terms of steps taken to deliver on commitments laid out in the Diversity Action Plan.  It is important to note, though targets, quite rightly have been set for the numbers of female and BAME public appointees, still today, no such target has yet been set for disabled people. 

Lord Holmes Review, 

Public Appointments Diversity Action Plan,

Why do we still have a disability employment gap 25 years after the Disability Discrimination Act?, Chris’s Blog

Disabled jobseekers ‘still face barriers to public sector roles’, Personnel Today

Annual Report, Commissioner for Public Appointments

Cabinet Office Outlines new Public Appointments Diversity Plan, Civil Service World

Bus open data: a data revolution but an accessibility fail

Ministers are completing the legal groundwork for the Bus Open Data Service (BODS), paving the way for new powers by the end of the year to ensure operators disclose data on fares, timetables and locations. Lord Holmes objects to the fact that accessibility data will not also be included.

The regulations would provide new legislation to require bus operators of local bus services across England, but outside London, to openly publish data electronically about their services through legally mandated data standards.

The move is designed to boost passenger numbers and support travel app development and follows Transport for London’s successful open data strategy and Transport for the West Midlands’s investment in providing a single data source for apps and journey planners across the region.

In London it is estimated that Citymapper and the Bus Times app had together delivered economic benefits of between £90m and £130m a year from travel time savings.

It has been over a year since the Bus Services Act was in the Lords at which time Lord Holmes raised the fact that there was no requirement for operators to provide accessibility data for vehicles or bus stops with ministers.

Despite these concerns, the Department for Transport failed to make such provision in the regulations and has even refused to provide a timeline for the when operators might be obliged to provide this data. Lord Holmes said:

‘It’s an extraordinary position that we find ourselves in. Over a year after we were told it’s not the right time to do this, again we see accessibility treated as a nice-to-have option or even an irritant rather than an essential element and an economic driver.

‘Everyone benefits from this having this. It is not an inordinate cost and burden. It’s not seen as an imperative for all concerned.

‘This information has significant economic and psychological benefits, it will help with rebuilding the economy and rebuilding communities by helping social ills such as isolation. There is nothing that is not positive and inclusive in this.’

The DfT has always maintained that requiring the disability data was too much of a burden for operators. However, this argument was dismissed by Lord Holmes.

‘This is just a deeply disappointing and avoidable mistake. This is not the hard stuff. The data is known. The specification for every vehicle on the road is known and it can be applied to the routes. It should have been seen as a positive step for all concerned.’

Bus Open Data: A data revolution but an accessibility fail, Transport Network, 8 July 2020

Bus accessibility fail is open to legal challenge, peer warns, Transport Network, 27 July 2020

Disability taxi access to Bank Junction is not a luxury but a necessity, Taxi Point, 3 July 2021

Talking Buses Come to Manchester, 30 September 2016

Business and Planning Bill must include small breweries

House of Lords 13th July 2020

Today (13th July 2020) speaking in the Business and Planning Bill Chris warned that, if changes were not made to the legislation, hundreds of small business’ in the brewing trade may needlessly go out of business.

In response to Covid-19 this relaxation of licensing laws for breweries, pubs and the wider hospitality sector to automatically extend premises licences to allow sales of alcohol off the premises is welcome.

However, hundreds of small breweries find themselves completely locked out, unable to serve their product to the public, successful business’ facing bankruptcy for want of small, doable, legislative changes.

Chris said:

“The situation, for hundreds of small breweries is, currently, precarious.”

“These breweries are facing a bleak, if not no,  future for want of simple changes to the legislation which would enable them to share in the unlock and have a successful summer.”

The current difficulties are caused by the fact that:

  • Some breweries do not have a premises licence and cannot offer takeaway and delivery directly to the public. This Bill will not help them during the Covid-19 crisis.
  • 1 in 4 breweries (around 500 of the 2000 breweries in the UK) do not currently have any way to sell directly to the public.
  • Small breweries have seen their sales reduced 65-82% because of Covid-19 and have not received the same level of financial support as pubs and the hospitality sector, such as the Business Rate holiday or £25,000 grant.

Chris proposed several amendments to the Bill. He said:

“65% of small breweries have been mothballed during Covid-19. Trade during the summer months will be vital for their survival.  We have the opportunity to make small changes to this legislation,  enabling them to trade successfully going forward.”

“We could do such a service for small breweries, if we legislated for an extension to the licencing relaxation to allow small independent breweries who currently cannot sell directly to the public to be able to do so on a temporary basis.”

“The innovation, ingenuity and hard work we have seen from the small brewers, over the past decade has been impressive.  New brands, flavours and concepts have brought new generations and sectors of society into, not only the product, but the methods of production and community centred approach that many of these business’ have taken since they were established.”

“Small legislative changes will make a big difference to our breweries, we owe it to them to bring them into the Bill.”

Read the Business and Planning Bill and all documents here.

Digital Technologies and Democracy Select Committee Report Published

Trust is bust, democracy hangs on: just, who has sussed, who is fussed?

Thirteen months in the making, today (29th June 2020) we published “Digital Technologies and the Resurrection of Trust”. Our Lord’s select committee report into democracy and digital technologies and a committee on which I was honoured to serve.

Thousands of pages of written evidence, hundreds of hours of in person testimony and many more hours of analysis and discussion distilled into 45 recommendations. Each recommendation standing on its own merit but, taken as a whole, with the potential to positively impact our digital experience and democratic engagement very much for the better.

Chaired brilliantly by David Puttnam, our cross-party committee approved every detail of the report unanimously.  Lord Puttnam said, understandably, it was like making a movie.

It has all the elements of Hollywood blockbuster:  David’s data, purloined by Goliathian tech giants. Our love for democracy tested to its limits, light and dark, duplicity disguised as dream, a man, on an unshakeable mission, ‘to do no harm’.

But this movie is already rolling and has been for well over a decade; picking, pushing, click bait, click hate, the more extreme, the more cash they cream.  The business model is simple, the more extreme, shocking or divisive the content, the longer the user dwells and the more monetizable the whole thing. The ‘attention economy’. Oh yes, at the same time, your data is stored and sold to the highest bidder for whatever they choose – they own it.  The bucks have never stopped here.

And the point, for some, is not to manipulate the democratic process. It’s not about backing a winner or determining the loser, the greater prize, is to destroy trust in the very democratic process itself.

As Lord Puttnam perfectly puts it:

“It is easy to forget the fragile foundations upon which so many of our freedoms are built – until they become threatened.”

And threatened they most certainly are, right now, under a “pandemic of misinformation and disinformation”.  Fake news is nothing new particularly not in the political arena.  What is new is the volume and the velocity which distorts and drowns out facts.  Yes, those fusty things, facts, thoroughly and fundamentally done in.

Covid could hardly bring a clearer screen for this moving picture. Fake news now ramped up to killer status.  In the midst of the pandemic, the anti vaxers, conspiracy theorists and Covid cures taken despite their incredulity. It’s not just the proposed Dettol that stinks.

Just this last week or so, two separate events epitomising so much of what we speak of in our report.  First, the Trump Tulsa rally.  Putting aside the decision to hold a mass rally during the worst pandemic in a century, let’s consider the role of social media in this scene.  K-Pop loving Gen Z via TikTok got heavily involved, creating fake accounts and snapping up vast numbers of Tulsa tickets they had no intention of using.  As a result, just over six thousand Trump fans in a venue fitted for over nineteen thousand. Interestingly, the true success of the TikTok attack was probably not the, undoubtedly powerful and undermining, images of empty seats but the destruction of potentially lucrative data for the Trump campaign team come the November election,

So, objective achieved, Trump, successfully trolled.  Successful, in its own terms, certainly but what of the essence of it?  Is trolling Trump any more virtuous than Trump twittering?

And now Facebook faces an advertising boycott despite announcing plans to prohibit hate speech and better protect groups such as immigrants from attacks. Facebook’s plans have not gone far or fast enough to prevent dozens of brands including Unilever, Verizon and Coca-Cola cancelling advertising for between a month and six months causing shares to fall more than ten percent over the last week.

What about freedom of speech? I completely endorse this right as the bedrock of democracy.  But what about freedom of reach?  It is significant and brings us back to that issue of volume and velocity.  Say what you like, it may well leave a rancid taste but your right to say it, is right.  But, when such views, for want of the bucks, are promoted and recommended by the platforms, this is a distortion, not a right, and, as we state in the report, the platforms must have a clear responsibility for this.

Our 45 recommendations deal with this principle and, also cover, in detail, the regulation, regulators, sanctions and more:

Regulation of mis/disinformation

We recommend that the Online Harms Bill (OH Bill) should be introduced within a year of this report’s publication and should make it clear that mis and disinformation are in scope.

As part of the OH Bill, Ofcom should produce a code of practice on misinformation – if a piece or pattern of content is identified as misinformation by an accredited fact checker, it should be flagged as misinformation on all platforms. The content should then no longer be recommended to new audiences.

Fact checking

Ofcom should work with online platforms to agree a common means of accreditation, initially based on the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), a system of funding that keeps fact checkers independent both from Govt. and from platforms and develop an open database of what has been fact checked across platforms and providers.

Content moderation

The Government should establish an independent ombudsman for content moderation to whom the public can appeal should they feel they have been let down by a platform’s decisions. The ombudsman’s decisions should be binding on the platforms and create clear standards to be expected for future decisions for UK users. These standards should be adjudicated by Ofcom. The ombudsman should not prevent platforms removing content which they have due cause to remove.

A joint committee of Parliament would oversee the work of the proposed ombudsman, including setting the budget and having the power of veto over the chief exec’s appointment.

Political advertising

We recommend that relevant experts in the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), Electoral Commission, Ofcom and UKSA should co-operate through a regulatory committee on political advertising. Political parties should work with these regulators to develop a code of practice for political advertising, along with appropriate sanctions, that restricts fundamentally inaccurate advertising during a parliamentary or mayoral election, or referendum. This regulatory committee should adjudicate breaches of this code.


The Government should legislate immediately to introduce imprints on online political material. This could be done through secondary legislation.

Advert libraries

Ofcom should issue a code of practice for online advertising setting out that in order for platforms to meet their obligations under the ‘duty of care’ they must provide a comprehensive, real time and publicly accessible database of all adverts on their platform. This code of practice should make use of existing work on best practice.

Personal data in political campaigns

The Government should legislate to put the Information Commissioner Office’s (ICO) draft code on political campaigners’ use of personal data onto a statutory footing.

Algorithmic recommendation

For harmful but legal content, Ofcom’s codes of practice should focus on the principle that platforms should be liable for the content they rank, recommend or target to users.

Ofcom should issue a code of practice on algorithmic recommending. This should require platforms to conduct audits on all substantial changes to their algorithmic recommending facilities for their effects on users with characteristics protected under the Equality Act 2010. Ofcom should work with platforms to establish audits on relevant and appropriate characteristics.

Ofcom should be given the powers and be properly resourced in order to undertake periodic audits of the algorithmic recommending systems used by technology platforms, including accessing the training data used to train the systems and comprehensive information from the platforms on what content is being recommended.

Platforms v publishers

The report uses the term ‘platforms’ but holds them to a responsibility for a duty of care, responsible for the content that they promote to large audiences, rather than content they host. Ofcom should have the power to sanction platforms that fail to comply with their duty of care in the OH Bill. These sanctions should include up to 4% of global turnover, and powers to enforce Internet Service Providers blocking of serially non-compliant platforms.

Regulatory capacity

The Government should introduce legislation to enact the ICO’s proposal for a committee of regulators that would allow for joint investigations between regulators. This committee should also act as a forum to encourage the sharing of best practice between regulators and support horizon scanning activity.

The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation should conduct a review of regulatory digital capacity across the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), ICO, Electoral Commission, ASA and Ofcom to determine their levels of digital expertise. This review should be completed with urgency, to inform the OH Bill before it becomes law.

Freedom of expression

We protect free expression online by focusing on what platforms algorithmically promote rather than what they host. This means that platforms would not be encouraged to remove harmful but legal content. They would be required to not promote it through their algorithms or recommend it to users. This gives people the freedom to express themselves online but stops it from reaching large audiences.

We also support free expression by improving platform’s content moderation decisions. We do this by requiring greater transparency of what content they take down so that the rules that govern online debate are clearer and by establishing an online ombudsman who will be empowered to act for users online.

Anonymity online

Ofcom should work with platforms and the Government’s Verify service, or its replacement, to enable platforms to allow users to verify their identities in a way that protects their privacy. Ofcom should encourage platforms to empower users with tools to remove unverified users from their conversations and more easily identify genuine users.

Online voting

We received a small amount of evidence that was in favour of online voting. In the round, however, opinion was overwhelmingly against introducing voting online. We heard that online voting might cause people to question the trustworthiness of election results and create fertile ground for conspiracy theories.

Exercising your democratic vote is an important act that should have some ceremony about it; visiting a polling station, for those for whom this is possible, is an important part of this. We should not seek to substitute or undermine this significant and important act with an online process.

Journalism in a digital world

We recommend that the CMA should conduct a full market investigation into online platforms’ control over digital advertising.

The Government should work urgently to implement those recommendations of the Cairncross Review that it accepts, as well as providing support for news organisations in dealing with the impact of COVID-19.

Education/digital literacy

Ofsted, in partnership with the Department for Education, Ofcom, the ICO and subject associations, should commission a large-scale programme of evaluation of digital media literacy initiatives.

The Department for Education should review the school curriculum to ensure that pupils are equipped with all the skills needed in a modern digital world. Critical digital media literacy should be embedded across the wider curriculum based on the lessons learned from the review of initiatives recommended above. All teachers will need support through Continuous Professional Development to achieve this.

Currently, we have a sub optimal online world that is contributing to the erosion of trust in our democratic institutions and processes.  We hope that our report and the 45 recommendations within demonstrate that there is nothing inevitable about this and, velocity aside, not that much which is new.

It’s in our hands, our (well washed) hands and as we type, tap, and share, we must take more care.  What kind of conversations and discussions do we want to be part of and on what kind of social media? Do we want rigorous respectful debates that are open, transparent, accountable and trustworthy?

If not, why not pack away the public square, put away the polling stations, and with muffled cry, let our democracy die.

It’s no one else’s democracy, save ours.

AI, a public good?

The Covid pandemic is providing ample opportunities to consider the potential of technology for public good, indeed, what area of public good is more important than public health?

One example, the NHSX tracing app promised significant benefits although, unfortunately, these seem far from being realised. It does, however, give us an opportunity to look at where it has worked and consider the risks.

A recent report from Stanford shows how Taiwan managed to avoid the extreme lock down measures seen here and around the world yet still successfully limited and contained the spread of the virus. How? The report shows five interconnected factors: pandemic readiness, national electronic health records database, wide scale testing, big data analytics and the use of mobile technology to track movements of individuals who tested positive for Covid-19.

The benefits of a functioning mobile app are clear but the use of this technology has raised concerns around transparency, trust  and data privacy rights.  This is an important issue for public discussion. I am passionate about the potential of technology for the public good and believe there is no better part of society than the public sector to lead the charge in the UK’s role as a global leader in responsible AI innovation.

Our Civil Service colleagues will be able to do a tremendous amount of social good if they approach the design and implementation of AI systems by making the realisation of ethical purpose and the pursuit of responsible practices of discovery a first priority.

Last year the govt published a guide to using artificial intelligence in the public sector.  The guidance consists of three sections:

  • understanding AI;
  • assessing, planning and managing AI and, most importantly,
  • using AI ethically and safely.

The guidance focuses heavily on the need for a human-centric approach to AI systems which aligns with positions of other forums including our work on the Lords AI select committee.

The Guidance also stresses the importance of building a culture of responsible innovation, and recommends that the governance architecture of AI systems should consist of a framework of ethical values; a set of actionable principles; and a process-based governance framework.

I have asked the government what plans they have to put this guidance on a statutory footing.

I hope they will think carefully about the statutory and non statutory mechanisms to ensure the safe and ethical use of AI and data technologies. The government has also promised that a national data strategy will be published this year. It is absolutely essential that we get this right. If we make sure we are regulating in such a way that supports the design implementation of ethical, fair and safe AI systems then that really would be ‘world beating’.