Vaizey: Departmental tech investment ‘could be better aligned’

Written by Jim Dunton on 22 March 2016 in News

Digital economy minister Ed Vaizey has told MPs there should be more synergy in the way Whitehall departments invest in technology.

Giving evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, Vaizey said he believed there was scope to examine whether the deployment of development and infrastructure initiatives could be better aligned.

The minister, whose portfolio straddles the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, said he expected the government’s delayed Digital Strategy to start a conversation about some of those issues.

“I don’t think that government is co-ordinated enough; different departments have different digital focuses,” Vaizey said. “We need to pause, perhaps over the summer, and look at how we engage digitally.

“I personally feel that we should have a review of the digital landscape between BIS and DCMS. There are a legion now of different organisations focused on particular digital issues, such as data: We have Innovate UK which is working on four different areas in terms of digital innovation, but we also have Tech City, which has a close relationship with a range of different technology companies. You have the Digital Catapult, the Smart Cities Catapult and the Satellite-Applications Catapult.

“I’d like to see some clarity on that digital landscape.”

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Vaizey said there was also scope to explore what closer working between departments could be possible in terms of connectivity.

“I  have the broadband rollout, but then the Department for Transport has it’s own scheme for getting mobile on trains and the Department for Energy has its own scheme for smart meters,” he said. “There may be synergies between those projects.

“The Home Office has its emergency services project which does have very close links with our broadband  rollout because the rollout of broadband masts for consumers coincides very closely with the rollout of mobile masts for the emergency services.

“There’s a good piece of work to be done on making sure that the government has a holistic view of the different digital initiatives that each department is taking.”

Vaizey told MPs that the government’s long-awaited Digital Strategy would likely be delayed until after the June 23 referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the European Union.

The strategy - which will look at ways to promote digital growth, transform government, and ensure that the nation has the right digital infrastructure over the next five years - had been expected “early” this year. 

“The Digital Strategy has been drafted and is ready to go: I imagine it will probably be published after the European referendum, when - as it were - the decks will have been cleared,” he told the select committee.

Vaizey said the document would have to be scrapped or re-written if the referendum resulted in a vote to leave the EU - with particular areas affected including the Digital Single Market and projected inward investment in technology.

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