Digital Britain: just a recession-busting ploy?

30 Jan 2009

The timely rollout of the Digital Britain manifesto by the UK Government shows the kind of foresight and energy needed to help economies emerge faster from recession than others.

The UK only officially slipped into recession earlier this week, but the active response by its Government to the changing economic climate in recent months has been energetic and innovative, compared with the radio silence and defensiveness on this side of the sea.

The publication yesterday of the UK Government’s Digital Britain manifesto shows the kind of foresight needed, and demonstrates just how pivotal digital infrastructure, talent and regulations will become as the platforms on which world economies – indeed entire nations – will be rebuilt when the dust settles.

The interim report on Digital Britain contained more than 20 recommendations, including specific proposals on: next-generation networks, the creation of a second public service provider of scale, the modernisation of wireless radio spectrum holdings, a digital future for radio, a new deal for digital content rights and enhancing the digital delivery of public services.

“This report sets out a strategy for building a knowledge economy where our most valuable assets are the skills and innovation that underpin our digital industries,” UK business secretary Peter Mandelson said yesterday.

“This is absolutely vital if Britain is to benefit fully from some of the greatest economic opportunities on offer this century,” Mandelson added.

More important than sentiment, the 22-point action plan outlined a programme of work with commitments to upgrading and modernising wired, wireless and broadcast infrastructure. The plan also includes proposals to secure a dynamic investment climate for UK digital content and services, as well as provide a range of high-quality UK-made public service content.

It also aims to ensure fairness and access with universal availability and promotion of skills and media literacy, as well as developing the infrastructure, skills and take-up to enable widespread delivery of public services.

The glue that will bind the whole plan together is obviously the aim of creating a diverse and rich range of home-grown content and services, aided and abetted by public service needs.

UK Culture Secretary Andy Burnham said: “Britain has always led the world in content creation – with the best music, films and TV – and it is vital that we carry forward this strength into the digital age. This is a significant report for the creative industries, taking steps to establish workable systems of copyright in an online age and to preserve choice of public service content.

“But it is only the beginning of the process, and we need to work hard in the coming months to secure workable solutions,” Burnham added.

But despite the foresighted nature of the report, a glaringly obvious omission was provisions for financing and supporting start-ups.

And failure to get that right could see the entire plan unravel.

By John Kennedy