UK PM splits govt department in 4, creates dedicated 'Science and Tech' bit
GDPR rejig and Online Safety Bill concerns, semiconductor strategy basically sorted then. Right? Right?
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has used a reshuffle of his cabinet of ministers to also usher into existence a dedicated department to focus on science and technology policy for the country, although when that will happen wasn't immediately clear.
In an announcement yesterday, Sunak effectively revealed a dividing up of the unwieldy former Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) into four separate departments, one of which is the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT).
The other changes include a new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ?) to focus on long-term energy supply issues, a combined Department for Business and Trade, and a "re-focused" Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport (inexplicably still shortened to DCMS).
According to the government, the creation of DSIT is intended to "drive the innovation that will deliver improved public services, create new and better-paid jobs and grow the economy."
Having a single department focused on turning scientific and technical innovations into practical, applicable solutions to the challenges we face will "help make sure the UK is the most innovative economy in the world," it claimed.
The new department will be headed by Michelle Donelan, previously the Secretary of State in charge of DCMS, a position she held there for less than six months.
The department is expected to bring together the science and technology functions from BEIS with the digital bits overseen by the current DCMS.
The new division will also oversee the Online Safety Bill, which has suffered significant delays due to arguments between various factions within the ruling party. In January, lawmakers successfully proposed amendments that would see tech executives face up to two years in jail for consistently failing to comply with the bill's rules, amid warning that the threat of criminal prosecutions could drive companies to leave the UK. Another aspect that is highly controversial is the potential prospect of age verification.
The new department will also head up the proposed replacement for UK GDPR, the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, after the rejig.
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It is not clear when the changes creating the four way split are due to take effect. We asked BEIS for clarification, and also an update on the UK government's yet-to-be published semiconductor strategy, which will now presumably become the responsibility of the newly created DSIT department. We will update this article if we get an answer.
Just last week, MPs sitting on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee reiterated their call for the government to publish its semiconductor strategy as soon as possible after multiple delays.
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The announcement of the new department has been met with guarded approval by some stakeholders. British technology trade association techUK said in a statement sent to The Register that it was "welcome news."
"Bringing science, technology and innovation under one roof will provide a clearer voice within Government on the benefits that digital technology and innovation can bring to our economy and public services. We look forward to continuing our engagement with Government under this new department," it said.
Joe Jones, director of Research & Insights for the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP), said he believed it would speed UK government efforts to replace the GDPR legislation, which may be a good or bad outcome depending on your point of view.
"Moving responsibility for data policy into a more prominent and 'dedicated' department on science, tech, and innovation could pave the way for advances to the UK Government's work to reform the GDPR, to secure new international 'data bridges,' and more," Jones said, adding that "individuals and organizations tracking UK privacy developments may need to brace themselves for more activity coming out of the UK Government."
A statement on the newly created DSIT web presence states that the department will focus on positioning the UK at the forefront of global scientific and technological advancement.
It will "direct record levels of research and development" and deliver talent programs, physical and digital infrastructure and regulation to support the economy, security, public services and wider government priorities, it is claimed. Whether any UK government department can live up to such claims remains to be seen. ®