What a year it’s been. Since the EU referendum British politics has been a non-stop rollercoaster ride for almost everyone in it. But amidst the major developments – Article 50, the general election – the machinery of Government has been rolling along and plenty has been happening. I’m not going to add to the enormous volume of commentary that we’ve seen around the big events, but I thought it was worth looking back at the major developments for Government, the public sector and business.
From the budget, which pledged £500m to fund new technical ‘T-Level’s to transform education for 16-19 year olds, to the Digital Economy Act in March (a significant milestone, with particular focus on copyright protection), to the constant fluctuations in the value of the pound, the last few months have been anything but quiet.
Earlier this month, for example, the results of a review of the gig economy were published by RSA Chief Executive Matthew Taylor, highlighting key issues around workers’ rights. Taylor argued that, in preparing for the future workplace, we must ensure automation ‘enhances the working experience rather than rendering it redundant,’ and said policy work on industrial strategy and innovation should be underpinned by an acknowledgment of the human factors driving productivity and enabling more rewarding working lives. It remains to be seen how the Government will respond, but it has raised a number of fascinating, timely questions about how we ensure that technology is a force for good. These are questions we’ve been attempting to answer since the industrial revolution, of course!
Commissioning this review was one of Theresa May’s first acts as prime minister. As we know, much of what was in the Conservative manifesto has since had to be scaled down, but one thing set to go ahead is the development of a digital charter - a new framework balancing online freedom with protection and safety. This was included as a non-legislative measure in the Queen’s Speech. I’ll be interested to see more detail, but the Government is absolutely right to seek to create a safer and more secure cyberspace, given the threats from hackers that we know are out there.
Another consequence of the election was that Cabinet Office Minister Ben Gummer lost his seat. Responsibility for implementing the Government Transformation Strategy – published in February and setting out the Government’s objectives to harness digital to transform the citizen-state relationship – will now lie with Damian Green. As TechUK has noted, given that he is also the effective deputy prime minister, the concern is that ‘other responsibilities must not side track him from this vital brief’.
Before the election the Government also unveiled the industrial strategy, a similarly ambitious document proposing changes that may take a generation to embed. Given that political focus is firmly on Brexit and public spending, I wonder if these plans will be scaled down. I hope not; now is absolutely the time to be planning and delivering a broad vision for the future of industry in the UK.
Skills are at the heart of that. In April we saw the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, which major businesses including Canon are now paying. There has been constant debate about its pros and cons – some have argued it is a blunt instrument, others have criticised a further ‘tax on business’ at a time of immense pressure – but I’m cautiously optimistic. Already, it has encouraged Canon to revaluate and redevelop our employment and learning strategy. If other businesses are doing the same that can only be a good thing for plugging skills gaps we know are on the horizon.
What the next 12 months will bring is anyone’s guess – it’s not sensible to make too many political predictions these days. But after a tumultuous political year, I suspect summer couldn’t come soon enough for many.