Liz Truss: The tech policy in-tray facing Britain’s prime minister

Liz Truss Image credit: Clicksbox via Shutterstock

After a lengthy leadership contest, the Conservative Party has named Liz Truss as the successor to Boris Johnson and the new prime minister of the UK.

While soaring energy costs, housing, and inflation will take priority during the early days of Truss’ premiership, there are a number of tech policy issues that will be piling up on her in-tray.

Here are just some of the matters most pressing to the UK tech industry that Liz Truss will have to deal with.

The Online Safety Bill

The highly polarising Online Safety Bill, designed to be an overarching law to monitor potentially harmful activity on the internet, remains in limbo.

Progress on the bill was halted during the leadership contest. However, now that the next prime minister has been decided, it will likely return as a hot topic of political discussion.

Support for the bill is being championed by Nadine Dorries, who served as the culture secretary under Boris Johnson. A firm supporter of Liz Truss, Dorries was asked to retain her cabinet position as the head of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), but decided to step down.

Dorries has suggested that Truss backs the bill, boosting its chances of progressing through to the Lords despite the many criticisms regarding free speech and digital privacy.

Financial regulation overhaul

Another bill going through the parliamentary process yet paused due to the leadership contest is the Financial Services and Markets Bill, which aims to iron out the future of UK financial regulation.

There is much speculation as to what this will look like by the final stage. Nadhim Zahawi, another Truss supporter after his own leadership bid crumbled, outlined the aims of the bill in July.

“We will repeal hundreds of pieces of retained EU law. UK financial regulation will once again be decided in the United Kingdom, for the United Kingdom, by the UK’s expert, independent regulators,” Zahawi said.

Bolstering the regulatory powers of bodies like the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), and the Digital Markets Unit (DMU) has been discussed as part of the bill. However, the future of these regulators was brought into question in August by the Truss campaign.

As reported by the Financial Times, sources close to the Truss campaign claimed the new prime minister had been privately critical of the FCA. Furthermore, it was reported that Truss would review the role of the country’s financial regulators, with the suggestion that a merger of the FCA, Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), and the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) could be possible.

Crypto regulatory framework

Also mentioned in Zahawi’s July speech was an additional goal of the bill: to expand the nation’s standing in the world of cryptoassets.

“[The bill] reinforces the UK’s position as a leading centre for technology as we safely adopt crypto assets,” Zahawi said.

The UK is expected to introduce its regulatory framework for cryptoassets soon, as more and more figures in the government explore the best way to deal with digital currencies.

Transforming the UK into a global cryptoasset hub has been a keen desire of the leadership contest’s runner-up, Rishi Sunak – as well as firm Sunak supporter Matt Hancock – however, whether Truss will take the same enthusiastic leap into encouraging the implementation of crypto into the UK economy remains to be seen.

Data Reform Bill

The Data Reform Bill from DCMS was said by the department to be designed to “harness the power of data to help British businesses, boost the UK’s position as a science and technology superpower, and improve people’s everyday lives”.

First announced in the Queen’s Speech – delivered this year by Prince Charles – the bill includes plans to “modernise” the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), increase financial penalties for firms misusing data, and give researchers more “flexibility” when using data for scientific research.

A debate over the data reform bill was planned for today but has been postponed to allow the new prime minister “time to study the proposals”, according to Politico’s Vincent Manancourt via Twitter.

Semiconductor strategy

Semiconductors have dominated headlines since the pandemic when a shortage of the crucial technology highlighted how reliant many parts of the world are on the Asian microchip industry.

The government has come under significant criticism over the last month from figures in the tech industry over a lack of a concrete UK microchip strategy. The European head of US chip giant Intel, the CEO of graphene company Paragraf, and Tech London Advocates founder Russ Shaw are just some of the names that have called on the UK to commit to a strategy of its own to keep pace with those seen in the US and the EU.

The concern is that the UK does not have the capacity to reliably manufacture enough semiconductors to have microchip independence, nor does it have a reliable solution to supply-chain issues with foreign microchip manufacturing. Moreover, existing British chip factories are being targeted for foreign acquisition.

Publishing a semiconductor strategy will be a vital step in Truss establishing support from the UK tech industry as the new prime minister.

Digital strategy

Unveiled at London Tech Week by former digital minister Chris Philp, who resigned in protest over Boris Johnson’s leadership, the digital strategy was meant to address the UK’s digital skills shortage and the need for increased investment.

The digital strategy, however, faced a mixed reaction with some, such as the CEO of freelance tech employee firm Distributed, criticising its vague promises and unclear solutions.

Regardless, the digital strategy was a sign that the government was taking steps towards further supporting the tech industry. It is unclear whether Philp will return to his former position under the Truss premiership, but as of now, there are no clear signs whether the promises made by the strategy in June will be fulfilled by the new government.