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Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden has launched a National Data Strategy and set out the action the government will take to support the use of data in the UK.

The new strategy will put data at the heart of the country’s recovery from the pandemic so companies and organisations can use it to drive digital transformation, innovate and boost growth across the economy.

The strategy, which lays out five priority ‘missions’ the government must take to capitalise on  the opportunities data offers, is a central part of the government’s wider ambition for a thriving, fast-growing digital sector in the UK.

It includes:

  • Plans for 500 analysts to be trained up in data and data science across the public sector by 2021.

  • Plans for a new Government Chief Data Officer to lead a whole-government approach to transforming government’s use of data to drive efficiency and improve public services.

  • Plans to introduce primary legislation to boost participation in Smart Data initiatives, which  can give people the power to use their own data to find better tariffs in areas such as telecoms, energy and pensions.

  • A new £2.6m project to address current barriers to data sharing and support innovation to detect online harms.

The UK is already a leading digital nation. Data-enabled UK service exports were estimated to be £243 billion in 2019, or 75 per cent of total service exports. And globally, the UK now sits behind only the US and China in terms of venture capital investment into the technology sector.

The strategy commits the government to develop a clear policy framework to determine what interventions are needed to unlock the value of data across the economy and help propel in the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “Our response to coronavirus has shown just how much we can achieve when we can share high-quality data quickly, efficiently and ethically. I don’t intend to let that lesson go to waste.

“Our new National Data Strategy will maintain the high watermark of data use set during the pandemic – freeing up businesses, government and organisations to innovate, experiment and drive a new era of growth. I am absolutely clear that data and data use are opportunities to be embraced, rather than a threat to be guarded against.

“It aims to make sure British businesses are in a position to make the most of the digital revolution over the years and decades to come, help us use data to improve people’s lives, and position the UK as a global champion of data use.”

Health and local authorities are using data to monitor the spread of coronavirus and the NHS is now able to predict where the system is likely to face strain first, be that on ventilators, beds or staff sickness and make fast interventions to save lives.

During the lockdown data kept supermarket shelves stocked, and services such as Ocado could send groceries to the doorsteps of those most vulnerable to the pandemic – allowing them to shield in safety. It also powers robots, pickers and packers meaning shopping arrives in one piece.

The government and businesses have come together to capitalise on data before. Open Banking handed the control of personal data back to customers who were able to share their data with third parties like start-ups, and shop around for a better deal.

Now the new strategy will look at how the country can leverage existing UK strengths to boost use of data in business, government and civil society.

It proposes an overhaul in the use of data across the public sector and the government will launch a programme of work to transform the way data is managed, used and shared internally and with wider public sectors organisations, to create an ethical, joined up and interoperable data infrastructure.

To help arm the next generation with high quality data skills, the Government will explore new ways to teach undergraduate students data skills that complement the existing current maths and computing curriculums, as well as developing T-Levels which include qualifications on digital skills.

Smart Data initiatives allow consumers and small and medium sized businesses to simply and securely share data with third parties that help them use that data. Plans for primary legislation will be brought forward to give people the power to use their own data to find better tariffs in areas such as telecoms, energy and pensions, and open the doors to disruptors in every part of the marketplace.

Plans to test the possibilities of sharing data between the public and private spheres include a new £2.6m project to model how improved systems for classification and sharing of data could support a competitive commercial market in tools able to detect online harms such as cyberbullying, harassment or suicide ideation. Through this programme, the government will review and upgrade the data standards and systems that underpin the monitoring and reporting of online harms such as child sexual abuse, hate speech and self harm and suicide ideation.

The strategy aims to take advantage of being an independent, sovereign nation to maximise those strengths domestically, and position ourselves internationally to influence the global approach to data sharing and use, including committing to the creation of an independent international data transfers capability.

Sue Daley Associate Director, Technology and Innovation techUK said: “Unlocking the full power of data has never been more important to our economy and society. A national data vision and strategy for realising the full economic and social value of data is vital to driving social good, innovation, competition, economic growth, productivity and job creation. Now is the time to get to work to build and realise the UK’s data-driven future.”

Darren Hardman, General Manager Amazon Web Services (UK and Ireland) said: “Making more effective use of data and cloud computing is key to the UK’s long-term economic growth and the continual improvement of our public services.  We welcome the launch of this consultation on the new National Data Strategy, which will be instrumental in ensuring the UK remains one of the world’s leading digital nations.”

Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Adviser said: “Our Foresight report on The Future of Citizen Data Systems highlights the importance of having a clear vision for what we want to achieve with citizen data, and building understanding and confidence among citizens in how we will achieve it. The National Data Strategy consultation is an important step in defining and realising this vision for the UK.”