The government’s long-awaited Levelling Up White Paper has been published. It is an ambitious plan to bridge the gap between the rich and poor areas of the UK by 2030 by improving services such as education, broadband and transport. But what does it mean for digital skills, IT infrastructure and the increasing role of technology in our society at large?
BCS Senior Policy Manager Dan Aldridge has prepared a briefing on the Levelling Up White Paper identifying where it aligns with the current work of BCS and the opportunities within it for the IT and digital sectors and members to contribute.
As an industry, we know how fundamentally important high quality, accessible IT infrastructure and digital skills are as levers for social empowerment, enabling individuals to thrive within their communities. It is encouraging to see the government’s paper on levelling up reiterating that skills and technological infrastructure are critical in spreading opportunity and prosperity across the UK.
- Twelve levelling up missions across the UK, given status in law, will shift Government focus and resources to the UK’s ‘forgotten communities’ to be achieved by 2030 to be enshrined in a flagship Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill
- Domestic public investment in Research & Development to increase by at least 40% outside the Greater South East, ringfencing funding for across the North, Midlands, South West, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland
- Biggest shift of power from Whitehall to local leaders in modern times announced - every part of England to get ‘London style’ powers and mayor if they wish to
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The potential outlined in the Paper is less about new funding (because there isn’t any) but more about how it proposes to restructure and decentralise governance and funding and drive a skills-based approach to levelling up.
In this, the Paper has potential to narrow the disparities between the best and worst performing areas across the UK and there are significant areas of overlap between the levelling up missions announced in the Paper and our own priorities, specifically:
- Closing the digital divide
- Eliminating digital poverty
- Establishing digital skills and computing education as a significant national tool in levelling up
Our current work in this area is focused on:
- Developing and promoting digital skills and qualifications
- Fostering and promoting best practice computing education and skills in primary schools via the Barefoot Computing network
- Improve the provision of secondary computing education alongside STEM Learning and the Raspberry Pi Foundation via the National Centre for Computing Education
- Engage the 60,000 strong BCS membership and wider IT community through our Digital Divide Specialist Group
- Increasing access to digital skills and training to underrepresented groups through a new bursary programme co-designed with BCS EMBRACE, the BCS race and ethnicity specialist group
Out of the twelve missions outlined in the Paper, those most relevant to BCS and our work are:
- By 2030, domestic public investment in R&D outside the Greater South East will increase by at least 40% and at least one third over the Spending Review period, with that additional government funding seeking to leverage at least twice as much private sector investment over the long term to stimulate innovation and productivity growth
- By 2030, the UK will have nationwide gigabit-capable broadband and 4G coverage, with 5G coverage for the majority of the population
- By 2030, the number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training will have significantly increased in every area of the UK. In England, this will lead to 200,000 more people successfully completing high-quality skills training annually, driven by 80,000 more people completing courses in the lowest skilled areas
For our community and wider sector, this Paper is an opportunity to reassess and refocus our efforts to support greater social empowerment, opportunity and prosperity through our own tools and networks.
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