Written as editor of the New Statesman’s NS Tech and first published here.
Matt Hancock is two months into his new role as Minister for Digital and Culture – filling the rather large shoes of Ed Vaizey – and he must hit the ground running.
As the minister acknowledged in a chat with journalists today ahead of a big tech announcement tomorrow, “tech businesses by their nature are dynamic and deal with the world as we find it”.
Yes, they largely won’t wait for bureaucracy to catch up, which can enable great innovation – as well as helping to create companies that aren’t playing by the official rules. ‘Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness’ is a tired but apt old maxim that can be traced back to early computer programmer Grace Hopper, little could she have known about today’s lawless Ubereconomy.
Asked by NS Tech where our Digital Strategy has got to – and how it’ll fit in now an Industrial Strategy is in the works – Hancock stated his position in even stronger terms than in his speech made last week for the Creative Industries Federation:
“Digital will clearly underpin the whole industrial strategy of the UK. There are also specific digital things, some of which we’re taking through parliament in the Digital Economy Bill [having its second reading in parliament today], others of which are non-legislative.
“In a way, more important than how you order the documents is the substance of what comes forward and having taken this job on two months ago, we’re working really hard to make sure that we get all that right.”
Hancock is clearly more bothered about the message than the medium, which might mean this is the last we see of the document formerly known as the Digital Strategy.
He is also positive and enthusiastic about the future of the UK tech industry post-Brexit, saying that:
“Being open and outward-looking and attracting the best people around the world is incredibly important and we’re determined to make Brexit a success by making sure that we’re a great place to do business.”
The main challenge with that is that many people thought they were voting for immigration control, rightly or wrongly, which most pro-business government ministers seem to hope won’t materialise. That’s particularly as it’ll mean sacrificing the benefits of the single market, among other things helpfully flagged by the government of Japan in an appeal to policymakers last week.
“The tech industry both uses domestic talent and talent from all around the world so we’ve got to get the deal right for the UK thinking about our place in the whole world, not just in relation to Europe.
“That’s the best way to think about this challenge, clearly it’s going to be part of the negotiation but the way we need to think about that negotiation is – what is the the best deal for the UK as a globally connected country?”
If only the EU was so keen to make sure the UK gets the best of all worlds. Just yesterday, Berlin unveiled its new trade office in London, where it’s hoping to woo startups, larger companies and investors with the offer of an EU-based country, without the strings of Brexit attached.