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Bye bye BoJo: Liz Truss named new UK prime minister
Can tech hold its own among an overflowing in-tray?
Former foreign secretary Liz Truss has been voted in as the UK's next prime minister – at least by about 80,000 Conservative Party members – and will face a barrage of policy decisions. Questions over the cost of living and energy crises will top the agenda, but tech policy also needs her attention.
BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, has put together a multi-point plan to keep the incoming prime minister focused on matters digital, skills chief among them.
Mayank Prakash, president of BCS, urged Truss to "unlock the potential of technology to reimagine our approach to fields like health and the economy."
"Technology can be our competitive advantage if we grow trust, particularly in online safety and digital privacy. We are also in an era where technology is democratising resources and unlocking innovation at an unprecedented pace," he said.
"In the UK however we are constrained by the technology skills gap in a deficit labour market. We need leadership on these priorities so we can invest in Britain's diverse talents and realise the full potential of technology to deliver economic prosperity," Prakash added.
For BCS, the priorities start with the IT workforce. Almost half of businesses struggle to recruit tech skills, it said. Recognition of data science as a discipline and the role of computing education and skills were next, then tech investment to support sustainability and healthcare. Lastly, online safety, privacy and trust need a fundamental review, BCS said.
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Truss can be expected to push ahead with reform to the UK's data protection regime but will have to strike a balance. She must grapple with making data protection seem Brexit-y enough – that is, diverging from EU law without diverging so far as to see the data sharing adequacy ruling revoked, ushering in a whole new era of red tape for businesses wanting to share data across borders.
Underscoring Truss's tendency towards low tax, low intervention government, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng wrote in the Financial Times that the "same old economic managerialism has left us with a stagnating economy and anaemic growth, with labour productivity growing at just 0.4 per cent a year since the financial crisis," seeming to forget who had been in power for the last 12 years.
"Taxes are now at their highest in 70 years. This toxic combination needs to be urgently addressed. We need to be decisive and do things differently. That is what Liz plans. Instead of managing one short-term shock after another, ducking or delaying the difficult reforms needed for lasting economic growth, as prime minister she will take bold action to change things for good," Kwarteng said.
Whether that includes the pet project of Dominic Cummings is a moot point. The former prime ministerial advisor – who seemed to relish his role in Boris Johnson's downfall – put developing a UK version of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as the number one priority after Brexit.
Given the state of the economy – and the dire need for funding frontline public services such as the NHS – it is hard to see how the £800 million ($920 million) investment plan will survive the transition to the new PM, especially since the so-called moonshot mission has barely got off the ground. ®