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UK tech reacts to Jeremy Wright’s appointment as Digital Secretary

Amidst a flurry of resignations, the Conservative party cabinet has experienced a shakeup.

Jeremy Wright has been named as the new Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Meanwhile, previous Culture Secretary Matt Hancock has been appointed as the new Health Secretary and Jeremy Hunt is the new Foreign Secretary (following Boris Johnson’s resignation).

The announcements were made on Twitter, where the new cabinet members were tagged by their Twitter handles. The only person who wasn’t tagged was Wright, suggesting he is not an active Twitter user.

He does, however, run a Facebook page, where he announced his new role, stating: “Very excited to be starting a new job this morning as Secretary of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, a department whose work has a huge impact on our heritage, the things we enjoy now and on our national future.”

Reaction from UK tech

The Secretary of State for Digital often makes decisions which affect the tech industry. So, how have members of the UK tech industry reacted to the new appointment?

Georgina O’Toole, chief analyst at UK-based TechMarketView, said his lack of social media presence was not surprising considering his previous role as Attorney General.

“Wright has shown limited interest in digital; however, it’s worth highlighting that he has been close to the Crown Prosecution Services’ digital plans and its contract disaggregation agenda,” she said.

“It may well be that his focus on the legal considerations around the sharing and disclosure of data will, by giving greater clarity, help move the agenda along more swiftly than we have seen so far. He has been vocal (see They Work for You) in his views that government needs to find a way to ‘analyse and winnow’ information held on digital platforms so that the right things are disclosed.”

‘No interest in tech’

Ethar Alali, the CEO of Axelisys and a signatory to TechForUK, feels his lack of tweeting signals potential danger: “What concerns me about Matt Hancock’s departure is that even the government understood he was closer to technology than any of the other members of the front-bench. This is in stark contrast to Jeremy Wright, who appears not only to have zero tech skill, but also no interest in it. Having not, at this moment, tweeted anything since April 2015,” he said.

Alali went on to say that the UK government has been touting technology as one of the saviours of Britain following Brexit, but this requires know-how if it is to succeed.

“With the deadline fast approaching and no deal in sight, UK technology investment will be fatally wounded as we lose Horizon 2020 and access to the European Investment Fund. The worst thing you can do is place a minister at the helm that doesn’t understand these complex interplays with technology. This removes the ability for smaller tech business to engage with Wright but also allows bigger, often less tech savvy, competition to schmooze their way into the hearts and minds of parliament through, what is frankly, utter drivel!

“Without an understanding of technology, there is no way Wright can tell the difference nor stand up for what is in the interests of 21st century Britain, given the vacuum that will exist as we leave the European Union,” he concluded.

Wright is an MP for Kenilworth and Southam. He became a government whip in 2010, before being appointed as parliamentary under secretary of state for justice in 2012 with responsibility for the prison service, probation, rehabilitation and sentencing.

In the government reshuffle in July 2014, he was promoted to be attorney general – the chief legal adviser to the government. The role also oversees the Crown Prosecution Service, the Serious Fraud Office and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate.

Building on tech’s success

Julian David, techUK‘s CEO, said the firm was very sorry to see Matt Hancock move on from the Digital portfolio, but added that they are looking forward to working with Wright to continue to build on the success of the industry: “As Minister for Digital, then as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Matt has been a staunch supporter of the UK’s tech sector both in government and in other domestic and international fora,” he said.

“As we navigate our exit from the European Union and build a Global Britain, it will be crucial to have a voice at the centre of Government that understands the role the tech sector has to play, not just in creating a prosperous economy, but in finding solutions to society’s most pressing challenges,” he added.

“In Jeremy Wright I am sure we will have an ally and a friend as we continue to build the UK digital economy. “

Wright’s background in law should make him well versed in legalities and policy understanding around any challenges he is faced with, said Rob Weatherhead, head of agency at Fast Web Media.

“But, how does it support him to deal with the challenges facing the technology sector?,” he asked. “Most notably infrastructure, skills, and innovation?  There is no evidence he has even a stance on these issues. For a man who has limited social profiles, a dated looking website and no evidence of any technical know-how it is difficult to see how he is going to meet the needs of our sector,” he added.

Gerard Grech, CEO of government funded Tech Nation, commented on the UK’s tech industry and its prominence in Europe. “In 2017 the UK attracted $7.8bn of venture capital funding, more than Germany, France and Sweden combined,” he said.

“This success has been built over years and it is vital that we keep up the momentum as we push for global leadership in this area. We look forward to working closely with Jeremy Wright to carry on the important work of building digital skills, supporting ambitious tech entrepreneurs and promoting our successful tech sector at home and abroad,” he concluded.

According to the official record, Mr Wright has said the word “digital” twice during more than 13 years in Parliament. Hopefully we will see this increase sharply as he moves to regulate the digital landscape. Only time will tell how Wright will settle into his new role and how his decisions will shape the future of the UK tech scene.