The long-awaited digital strategy has arrived, as the government leans on Lloyds, Barclays and Google to deliver its pledge to make Britain “the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business”.
Small businesses in the coastal tourism industry will benefit from specialist digital training, while the government added detail on broadband infrastructure upgrades.
Commenting on the digital strategy, secretary of state for culture, media and sport Karen Bradley said the government was determined to “protect and strengthen” the UK’s digital sectors by working closely with the business community.
A new Business Connectivity Forum will aim to supply full fibre broadband to firms across the country. The forum will bring together communications providers, business organisations and local authorities to address the disparity in connectivity that leaves many rural business owners without fast internet access.
The digital strategy confirmed the £1bn broadband investment announced in the Autumn Statement.
Global tech partnerships
Five tech hubs will be built in developing countries to give small UK businesses a “global competitive edge” through the sharing of information and expertise with local startups.
The prototype for the bases is the UK-Israel Tech Hub, which has so far fostered 80 startup partnerships with a collective value of £62m.
Through a “Summer of Skills” programme, the tech giant will bring digital skills training to small tourism businesses in Britain’s coastal towns.
Google’s UK and Ireland managing director Ronan Harris said: “We welcome the government’s timely digital strategy which ensures the benefits of the digital economy are spread across the country.”
Employers will benefit from Lloyds Banking Group’s “face-to-face” digital training schemes, with a pledge to improve the skills of millions of individuals and small businesses by 2020.
Barclays announced plans to give cyber-awareness training to a million UK workers – supporting the digital defences of small firms.
The bank’s investment could also train the tech workforce of the future, with free coding lessons for 45,000 British children.
Josh Hardie, deputy director at the Confederation of British Industries (CBI), said UK companies were at the “forefront of the digital revolution” and the digital strategy would improve the skills and infrastructure needed to support small businesses.
Meanwhile, Gerard Grech, chief executive of Tech City UK, said the digital strategy provided an “ambitious road map” to keep Britain’s tech sector competitive.
“The UK’s tech sector is rapidly becoming a global force to reckon with, but we must ensure that we stay ahead by continuing to provide a supportive environment for British startups and digital companies to grow in, especially since other countries are trying to take advantage of our departure from the European Union,” Grech said.
According to one analyst at research company Ovum, however, the plans do not go far enough in ensuring Britain’s long-term future as a competitive digital economy.
“We need to invest in education and startups and skills,” Chris Pennell told the BBC.
“I would like to see more long-term thinking about education and digital skills because digital businesses will be crucial to the economy after Brexit.”
Digital strategy on a micro scale
For Gi Fernando, founder of digital training company Freeformers, by investing in their own employees and local communities small business owners could play a major role in strengthening Britain’s digital future.
“Creating the next generation of digital-first companies does not begin and end with startups in East London. Instead it’s about giving communities across the UK – including in areas desperate for increased employment and better future prospects – the digital tools and growth mindset to drive their local economy forward as well as then impacting on the national economy,” he said.
Find out how a small business can build a bridge over the digital skills gap
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