Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP
Member of Parliament for Chingford and Woodford Green
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I am delighted to join the growing group of Nash Squared Tech Champions in Parliament and to contribute my thoughts to the ever-active digital policy debate via Tech Bytes.
While this growing group comes from across the House, one thing unites us – we all believe that the UK will only be stronger and more prosperous with forward-thinking leadership on tech policy in Westminster.
November saw the Chancellor set out his “ambitious but achievable” vision to make the UK the very best country in the world in which to invest in or start an innovation or technology-centred business - the “world’s next Silicon Valley”.
We’ve seen the beginnings of these plans begin the roll into view with the creation of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. However, without the skilled workforce to support these ambitions we cannot expect to make half the progress the Prime Minister and the Chancellor hope for.
In a report last year by the Centre for Social Justice, we highlighted that by 2030 the most widespread under-skilling is expected to be in basic digital skills.
Adults in particular will fall behind on the essential functions of using word processing software, setting up video calls, and uploading files to cloud storage services. This will no-doubt put the UK on the back foot when it comes competing with others around the world for the investment of tech firms large and small.
In our recommendations we specifically called on the Government to release nation-wide courses that focus on literacy and essential digital skills, making this entitlement a legal requirement for all adults.
This, of course, is only start of the necessary journey the UK needs to take in order to make ourselves the first choice destination for tech investment. We have a severe shortage of those with the advanced skills needed to fill the highest paying and most in-demand roles in cyber security and coding.
Nash Squared, like many other British tech firms, is trying to counter this. Their annual Digital Leadership Report, launched in Parliament at the end of last year, showed that up to 70% of digital leaders found that a skills shortage was preventing them from keeping up with the pace of change. They are working hard to find the talent and create the pipeline, but need our support in parliament.
In my own constituency I was pleased to attend Google’s Digital Garage in November. They are providing digital skills training for local businesses and the community, including 1:1 mentoring with digital skills trainers and have trained over 800,000 small businesses and individuals for free.
I support the Government’s bold plans for the future of tech in the UK. However, it is clear that we must walk before we can, and a focus on getting the basics right first on tech skills is the key to this.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith is the Member of Parliament for Chingford and Woodford Green and a former Leader of the Conservative Party. He is also Chair of the Centre for Social Justice.
Each month we invite a leading member of the UK’s parliament to share their thoughts on technology and innovation in the UK.