Among the goals set out by the plan is one to improve Britain's digital skills base, "from ensuring everyone can make the most of digital technology" to "training the next generation of innovators." For instance, although young people increasingly use digital devices, there has been a decline in the number of students studying information and communication technology subjects in school over the last 10 years.
According to the plan, the government currently is working with industry and others to develop a new computing curriculum due to start in September 2014. Goals include encouraging young people, especially girls, to pursue careers in technology, and seizing opportunities presented by massive open online courses (MOOCs). The government also wants to make it easier for people to develop and upgrade their knowledge and skills through vocational conversion courses, one-year masters degrees and technical diplomas.
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Another plan goal is to help small-to-medium enterprises make better use of technology. "The U.K. has the most advanced online market in Europe, but recent studies show that fewer than a third of U.K. SMEs transact online," says the document. "Industry, in partnership with government, will launch a program this autumn to get more SMEs trading effectively online. Our intention is to reach 1.6 million businesses over the next five years."
To further help SMEs, the plan states, the government will lower barriers to new contracts. "Central Government spends £7 billion a year on IT. Most of the major contracts that make up this spend will come to an end in 2014-15," says the document. These long-term contracts will not be renewed, says the plan, and the government will increase the amount of money spent with SMEs to 25% on central government procurement, and 50% on new government IT.
All in all, a broad range of initiatives will be launched under the strategy, focused on improving the economic efficiency and productivity of British businesses, as well as enhancing the delivery of healthcare, education, retail and communications to people in the U.K. Security training and improving the country's broadband are also included.
In the document's foreword two Ministers warn, "The information economy brings massive opportunities -- but only if government, industry and academia work together to make it happen."
That's a warning echoed by the IT industry, with Victor Chavez, CEO of Thales U.K. and president of Intellect, the trade group that represents the UK technology sector, who states, "The dynamism of the U.K.'s information economy is one of our true strategic advantages, but it must be constantly strengthened to keep ahead of the global competition."
The plan was welcomed Friday by British business, with Rhian Kelly, director for business environment for the employers' group CBI, noting, "The Information Economy is vital to U.K. growth and the way we do business.
Technologies such as cloud computing and 5G help keep all businesses a step ahead in the global race, he added, so it is right for the government to "get behind our hi-tech firms" as part of a coherent industrial strategy for the U.K. But, he added, "Success will depend upon the U.K. developing world-leading digital infrastructure and government departments working together to drive the strategy forward."