Data centre with concept art on top

UK unveils data strategy to recover from coronavirus slump

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The Government has announced a strategy to make the UK a “data champion” as one measure to help lift its floundering economy out of the coronavirus-induced slump.

The new strategy will apparently help companies and organisations gain greater access to data to drive “digital transformation, innovation and boost growth across the economy”. Among the proposals are plans to train 500 analysts in data science across the public sector by next year. 

The Government will also introduce a new chief data officer to lead its approach to transforming its use of data to drive efficiency and improve public services. It also intends to start a £2.6m project to address current barriers to data sharing and support innovation to detect online harms.

Data-enabled UK service exports were estimated to be approximately £243bn in 2019 - around 75 per cent of total service exports. Globally, the UK now sits behind only the US and China in terms of venture capital investment in the technology sector.

The plans come amid the unprecedented use of data in healthcare services for monitoring the spread of coronavirus and instituting new measures in a timely fashion to control the spread.

Digital secretary Oliver Dowden said that data has been “one of our most powerful and versatile weapons against coronavirus”, adding that it has helped the NHS to track the movement of vital medical equipment and send ventilators where they were most needed.

Nevertheless, the Government’s initial plans to develop an app for contact tracing using data from people’s smartphones that was fed into a centralised system attracted criticism from privacy advocates. The Government subsequently rebooted the project with a more privacy-focused approach using a system developed by Apple and Google.

Data was also used extensively to ensure that supermarket shelves were kept stocked and that online shopping services sent groceries to the doorsteps of those most vulnerable to the pandemic. Dowden said that data would be the cornerstone of the UK’s economy in the future, saying it is now one of the most valuable commodities globally.

“As we gradually began reopening the country, public health experts have used data to predict and flag second spikes in the disease and to monitor the traffic on our roads,” Dowden said. “Our response to coronavirus has shown just how much we can achieve when we can share high-quality data quickly, efficiently and ethically. I don’t intend to let that lesson go to waste.

“Our new National Data Strategy will maintain the high watermark of data use set during the pandemic – freeing up businesses, government and organisations to innovate, experiment and drive a new era of growth. I am absolutely clear that data and data use are opportunities to be embraced, rather than a threat to be guarded against.

“It aims to make sure British businesses are in a position to make the most of the digital revolution over the years and decades to come, help us use data to improve people’s lives and position the UK as a global champion of data use.”


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