Appoint tech minister to drive digital UK, say Lords

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The next government must appoint a digital cabinet minister to drive the UK's tech economy at this "make or break" point in its history, claims a House of Lords report today.

The digital minister would push a digital agenda to position the UK as a global tech leader within five years, added the report, criticising the Coalition for a lack of co-ordination on digital initiatives.

Baroness Morgan of Huyton, who chaired the Digital Skills Committee responsible for the Make or Break: The UK's Digital Future report, said: "Digital skills can no longer be dealt with by individual departments this must all join up.

"We urge the new government to create a cabinet minister post to steer this digital agenda through.

"We are at a make or break point for the future of the UK for its economy, its workforce and its people.

"This report declares the UK must aim to be a global digital leader, and only clear leadership from the government will get us there."

The recommendation was welcomed by industry trade body techUK, whose deputy CEO, Anthony Walker, said it matched points made in the body's own manifesto, published last year.

He added: "They are absolutely right that it is make or break time to secure the UK's digital future.

"Leadership is vital and this report echoes techUK's call for a single, joined-up, digital strategy with a dedicated cabinet minister."

The current government's digital agenda is driven by the Government Digital Service (GDS), which has set about transforming Whitehall with a number of initiatives.

It also has a minister for the digital economy in Ed Vaizey.

Labour, yet to reveal its own digital strategy ahead of May's general election, is considering recommendations made in a recent independent Digital Government Review.

They include a suggestion that each secretary of state takes responsibility for transforming their own department's digital service, but the House of Lords report criticised the unco-ordinated efforts it sees evident in the current government.

It read: "Evidence from the two ministers did not reassure us that there was sufficient coordination. We were told that the current digital activity' the government is responsible for includes four government ministers, a taskforce, a committee, a unit and 'various other random issues'.

"This does not demonstrate a cohesive digital approach to us."

The committee also highlighted a need to make digital literacy a third core subject, alongside English and maths.

It said 35 per cent of UK jobs are at risk of automation, and the government has not done enough to educate pupils in IT.

Baroness Morgan said: "Our approach to educating people of all ages needs a radical re-think. From an early age we need to give digital literacy as much importance as numeracy and literacy.

"While we welcome the introduction of the computing curriculum, we are concerned about the ability of teachers to deliver it, with more than half of our IT teachers not having a post-A level qualification relevant to IT.

"At the higher education level, there is an urgent need for industry input, so that graduates are learning job-relevant digital skills."

It called for training to help teachers equip themselves to teach digital skills to pupils, and pointed to the importance significantly increasing the number of girls studying STEM subjects at further and higher education.

The government must ensure that a tenth of the workforce has high-level digital skills by 2020, the committee added.

However, one potential obstacle to this is the prevalence of mobile not-spots, which the government hopes to tackle with a 5 billion commitment from telcos.

Despite acknowledging these efforts, the report said: "We find it unacceptable that, despite government efforts, there are still urban areas experiencing internet not-spots', which is hampering universal coverage and the UK's international competitiveness."