While the UK government continues to blame Brexit for a lengthy delay to the publication of its digital strategy, chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond has popped up at Microsoft’s Reading HQ to unveil plans for the software giant to train 30,000 civil servants in digital skills.
Microsoft, we’re told, will also offer “free digital literacy” training to Brits across the country, with the announcement coming just days after the Tory government was accused by the science and technology committee of producing a late and stingy response to its concerns about the UK’s digital skills crisis.
On top of that, a digital strategy is yet to be unveiled by the government, whose mandarins have now spent more than a year working on the plan. But in a letter—published on Thursday—to Conservative MP Stephen Metcalfe, who is the committee’s chair, digital minister Matt Hancock said:
Following the [EU] referendum on 23 June, the government has been working hard to get the digital strategy right, ensuring that it helps to make the UK a country that works for everyone.
I would like to assure you that the recommendations raised by the committee on digital skills were carefully considered across government and that ensuring the UK has a strong supply of digital skills remains a high priority.
That is why we are working hard to boost this at all levels—from the basic digital skills people need to make the most of being online, to the specialist digital skills for the growing number of specialist digital roles across the economy.
His missive clearly chimes with the government’s decision to parachute in US tech giant Microsoft to offer free digital training to public servants and British citizens.
“In the wake of the EU referendum vote, the UK is looking at charting a new and different path to its future and Microsoft is committed, as it has been for more than thirty years, to helping the UK realise its full potential,” said Microsoft’s UK boss Cindy Rose, who—unable to resist a publicity plug—added: “We believe maintaining the UK’s global competitiveness relies on a successful transition to a cloud-enabled economy.
“At Microsoft, we aim to do our part by investing back into the UK digital economy to ensure people of all ages and backgrounds are equipped with the skills necessary to thrive into the future,” she said.
According to the most recent ONS figures, over 5.8 million Brits do not use the Internet, and 12.6 million adults lack basic digital skills, even as the government continues to try to shunt citizens over to its digital services—many of which still have the scaffolding up.
Earlier this week, the government unveiled its so-called “industrial strategy,” in which it said that businesses developing robotics, 5G tech, smart energy, and artificial intelligence will be showered in R&D cash from a £4.7 billion taxpayer-funded pot.
The science and technology committee said that it welcomed the plan, while reminding the government that it was still shielding its digital strategy from public view. A digital strategy that should—among other things—reveal how the £450 million from the government’s coffers (money that was set aside in late 2015) will be spent on the flapping-in-the-wind Government Digital Service. Hancock’s response to Metcalfe seemed to keep it firmly in the shade, however.
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Listing image by The Thick Of It, BBC