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Growing the digital economy

By Matt Hancock, minister of state for digital and culture

Superfast broadband is available to more than 90 per cent of UK homes and businesses, and is on course to reach at least 95 per cent by the end of next year. We recently announced a further £440 million to supply quick and reliable internet connections to the hardest-to-reach parts of the country, which will help half a million more homes and businesses. And we are also legislating for a universal service obligation for all.

Looking forward, we need to be ready for the next technologies. Full-fibre rollout is happening all over the world and take-up is high. We announced more than £1 billion to support the rollout of full-fibre broadband connections and future 5G mobile in the Autumn Statement to ensure we stay ahead.

Getting the right infrastructure in place is only half the challenge. Research shows more than ten million adults in England still don’t have basic digital skills. That holds people back, not least as jobs increasingly need these skills. So we are making training in digital skills free to any adult in England who needs them, regardless of age or background.

Once people are online, we need them to be safe too. We want the UK to be the safest country in the world to live and do business online. In 2015 one in four of all businesses experienced a cyber breach or attack and a quarter of large firms were hit at least once every month. This impacts on consumer confidence and costs the UK billions of pounds. So we are investing £1.9 billion to protect the UK online.

The digital sector is growing twice as fast as the rest of the economy

We have opened a new National Cyber Security Centre to protect citizens, industry and public services. We are also launching two new innovation centres where startup firms can base themselves in their crucial early months and get expert advice to develop groundbreaking cyber-security technology.

Safety also means the freedom to explore the internet without the worry of stumbling on potentially harmful material. Alongside industry, we have taken action. There are now family-friendly filters for an estimated 90 per cent of the UK’s broadband market, members of the public can report online material that promotes terrorism or extremism to the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit and measures in the Digital Economy Bill will help protect children from harmful pornography online.

We are committed to supporting all our digital businesses at every stage of their development, in fintech, medical tech, smart cities and education technologies, to name a few. And we’ve supported the sharing economy to allow people to earn more from their assets, and want to see the tech industries innovate and grow.

The results are impressive. Recent statistics show the digital sector is worth more than £118 billion to our economy a year and accounts for more than 1.4 million jobs. The number of digital enterprises has hit almost 200,000 and the sector is growing twice as fast as the rest of the economy. Last year six UK cities were ranked in the top twenty for supporting both startups and scaleups in the European Digital City Index.

If we stay focused on all these measures – on access and infrastructure, on skills training, on security, on industry support – we will achieve our goal of a digital economy that everyone can benefit from.

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