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UK government under pressure to reveal digital strategy

The UK government has come under pressure from a group of MPs to publish its long-anticipated digital strategy.

The chair of the Science and Technology Committee in the UK parliament's House of Commons, Stephen Metcalfe, has written to UK digital minister Matt Hancock seeking an explanation for the delay in its publication.

Hancock's predecessor, Ed Vaizey, previously said that the strategy would be published in early 2016. However, the report was then delayed as a result of the referendum on Brexit.

Metcalfe's letter (1-page / 90KB PDF) highlighted the Committee's disappointment that it had only received a response to its June 2016 report on digital skills on 5 January, instead of within the two month timeframe for responses to Committee reports which is customary. The Committee's report made 27 recommendations on how to address a lack of digital skills, which it claimed is costing the UK £63 billion a year in lost GDP. Of those recommendations, seven made reference to what the government might outline in its new digital strategy.

In his letter, however, Metcalfe said that the government's response to the Committee's report "provides no information on how recommendations about the strategy will be addressed". He called on Hancock to explain why the strategy has "taken so long to finalise" and to indicate when the strategy is likely to be published.

Vaizey said in late 2015 that the government's digital strategy would map out how the UK will engage in a "digital revolution" over the next five years.

In its response to the Committee's digital skills report, the government said it is continuing to work to determine where the UK's digital skills gaps "are most predominant", and that it is "working closely with industry, education and training bodies and charity organisations to reduce these gaps".

The government said it had already committed funds towards improving cybersecurity skills in the UK, and it rejected the Committee's idea to undertake annual dynamic mapping of public sector and industry initiatives and public spending on digital skills against the economic demand for those skills. Such an initiative would "provide an incomplete picture in a constantly changing environment", the government said.

To address a gender imbalance in recruitment for jobs in digital, the government said it is "determined to encourage more young people, especially girls, to study STEM subjects". 

"We recently announced an ambition that by 2020 we would see a 20% increase in the proportion of girls’ A level entries in mathematics and science subjects," the government said. "Government is already doing much to address this issue. This includes initiatives to recruit more top mathematics and science graduates into teaching and ensure existing teachers have access to high quality professional development through the Network of Teaching Excellence in Computer Science, Science Learning Partnerships and Maths Hubs. We also support the industry-led ‘Your Life’ campaign that aims to change young people’s perceptions of STEM subjects."

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