Ambitions for UK tech

Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
    • Secretary of State Michelle Donelan delivered a speech at Bloomberg on the government’s ambitions for UK tech.

By Michelle Donelan

I am really delighted to be here, opening this event, and as digital secretary, to be in charge of what I think is one of the most important portfolios in government.

Last year, this small island became just the third country in the world to have a tech sector valued at over $1 trillion – behind only China and the United States, and first in Europe by some distance.

Our sector is worth more than double of Germany’s and three times more than France’s, and is home to hundreds of unicorns – including household names like Deliveroo and Monzo. And perhaps most importantly, we are world leaders in the kind of tech that is going to dominate our future, like AI. And this didn’t happen by accident.

We got here thanks to the people in this room – thanks to your ideas, and your passion and your entrepreneurial spirit. We also got here because we have a clear vision for where this country is going, and a government that is prepared to match that ambition with action.

I believe that Britain is uniquely placed in the world to become the world’s number one when it comes to tech.

Now that we are outside of the EU, and with our proud history of being a nation where we offer measured, proportionate regulation, that sparks and enables innovation, where we also really value and encourage the entrepreneurial spirit,

One where entrepreneurs have both the stability, but also the freedom, to invest and innovate. And that’s why in the decade or so since the start-up scene first began springing into life, the UK has seen a sustained explosion of investment and growth.

It happened because we brought together a potent mix of four key fundamental things:

  • The right people;
  • The right money;
  • The right ideas;
  • And the right regulation.

Which is why all of these four things underpinned the government’s digital strategy. And if we want to take things to the next level – to the very top – then we need to double down on all of those four things.

To double down on people – through things like addressing the skills gaps, which is the theme of one of my roundtables. And having spent three years in the department for education prior to this, I have first-hand seen how the skills element really can play a key role. And for me just two stats illustrate the urgency of that challenge very clearly:

Firstly, digital roles are now increasing four times faster than the workforce as a whole.

And secondly, there are an average of 173,000 vacancies per month for digital occupations in the UK. Those unfilled roles are costing us up to £150 billion a year in lost GDP. So we need to continue to focus on people.

This is a country that has on average produced a Nobel Prize winner every year for the past two decades, and we need to keep it that way. We need to continue as well to focus on money: to keep venture capital investment flowing through, prioritise our science and tech budget and work together to drive investment in our 5G and gigabit networks.

On ideas – we need to continue to foster investment in research and development, to help our world-class universities even more world-class graduates, and skills that will drive the tech sector forward even faster. And we need to keep providing the right regulation – to create the kind of competitive and innovative environment where people can start the next Deliveroo or DeepMind, and can scale it up, and go on to become global success stories.

So we already have the right list of ingredients. We just need to double down on them. And I will just finish by saying I think it is the perfect time to be so ambitious and bold. There is no doubt that this is an extremely challenging time for our economy.

We have just been through a once-in-a-century pandemic, we are experiencing war in Europe, soaring inflation and an increase in the cost of living across the globe. But let’s not forget our world-renowned tech ecosystem sprung up in the shadow of the 2007/8 financial crisis. And if any country has the brain power and ingenuity to repeat history, and use tech to drive us out of another challenging period, I genuinely believe it is this one.

The business secretary, the Chancellor and I – will work closely with all of you over the coming months to make this happen. We will ensure that your views and your ideas are represented as your voices in government.


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