A small group met last week to discuss opportunities that Brexit might offer for the digital sphere in the UK. This meeting was part of my early work for the Carnegie UK Trust seeking positives from Brexit. I set out some ground rules for the discussion – assumption that Brexit was going to happen, seeking positive opportunities, no partisan-ship, no reheating the campaign. The participants threw themselves into the discussion in good faith and some fascinating ideas emerged. I’m organising a similar event in Cardiff and the NE. If anyone would like me to do another somewhere else, please get in touch.
Some highlights from the summary unattributed minute are below (views reported here are not Carnegie UK Trust’s nor, necessarily my own):
Can digital and tech sector with government set out a promise of the future through technology as a new national rallying point – modern ‘white heat of technology’ to transform Britain
Can the digital industries be front and centre in a vision for British society and industry post Brexit?
How can technology unlock a ‘new Victorianism’ of optimism and boundless possibility now we can set our own destiny outside the EU, rather than be held back by bureaucracy?
Law and regulation important competitive industry in Britain – can the Susskind-type potential for radical tech based transformation of legal industry now be realised?
Tech and digital work needs to have an impact on the ground in the Brexit voting areas. Needs to be relevant and grass roots, bottom-up. Not ‘Islington speaking to the nation’.
Desperate need for deeply regional digital industrial strategy to bring benefits to areas where Brexit vote came from – e.g. Wakefield. Why do digital start ups so often end up coming to work in Manchester and London?
Focus should be on investing, not trading – pure free trade will not help the people who voted for Brexit.
Over-focus on consumer driven internet startups – race to be THE social network for instance or unicorn, only tiny number benefit. Focus on transferring slightly ephemeral consumer transaction based skills of ‘Shoreditch’ into factory and industrial production, actually increasing (static) national productivity. More British Aerospace, less AirBnB.
Invest in training the people who voted for Brexit outside London with the full spectrum of skills needed for a successful digital future. Everything from high end Prof, Drs to the digital plumbers.
Brexit vote strong in former industrial areas – why haven’t the people there been given new portable digital skills for modern industry or economy?
EU free movement has allowed deficiency in national low to middle skills to be made up by non-brits (either employed overseas working online or coming to the UK). Instead of training up local people. Brexit will force that to flip – but mechanisms and policies for modern tech skills and training don’t seem to be there.
Industry must play greater role in training up more people with digital and tech skills for their industry – especially basic to intermediate skills.
Technology will continue to have disruptive effect – impacts of that need to be handled well – eg drivers displaced by self driving cars – they won’t go on to design new and better cars, they will need access to new (digital) skills at an appropriate level.
Complete overhaul of the immigration system – particularly a new and transparent set of public, ethical values and purposes that govern it. Also its underlying broken, dehumanising processes, crying out to be fixed with better technology.
Can the UK tech sector set a benchmark for an open interoperable immigration system (along GDS-ish principles). Will Home Office even come to the table for some genuine user-focussed work after the e-borders fiasco – PM May has bitter experience of how not to do it?
Will always be exceptional skills that are genuinely global that we shall need in the UK no matter where they come from. We have attracted them from outside the UK already despite awful immigration system. Migration needs to focus on them and tech sector make its case to government for quantum and nature of those skills/people.
How can Whitehall use technology to form loose policy making teams across the government/industry/civil society boundaries instead of doing everything in house?
How do we raise our eyes from the EU to look globally, Kenyan, Singaporean, Israeli top digital talent?
What do we replace EU-driven procurement rules with that retains advantages to the public of an open and transparent system?
Can someone come up with a shadow procurement system to test and evaluate?
Current procurement system discriminates against SMEs w/o specialist procurement tendering teams. As unfair as migration system, in a different way.
Can a new UK procurement system be open and transparent and interoperable, setting a new global standard for how to do it? (see immigration system aspiration above)
But beware of desperation and throwing baby out with bath water. Well intentioned procurement simplification can lead to a different set of problems – corruption, money laundering etc
Tumultuous change needs to be set within a new ethical framework – framing British ‘fairness’ and ‘decency’ – people come here for the law – UK is squeaky clean, it’s a huge intangible benefit
Ethics important as a more open system is more susceptible to gaming, especially during its formative years. Ethics will help people take judgements within new frameworks.