Brian Sims

National Data Strategy Forum launched by Government

A NATIONAL Data Strategy Forum designed to help the country seize the opportunities of data and cement the UK’s place as “the world’s number one data destination” has been announced by the Government.

John Whittingdale (Minister for Media and Data) and techUK director Sue Daley are set to chair the forum which will bring together key voices from industry, privacy groups and academia to help implement the UK’s National Data Strategy. The latter is described as “an ambitious, pro-growth strategy” driving the UK forward in building a world-leading data economy that works for everyone, while in parallel ensuring public trust in data use.

The move is announced as the Government publishes its response to a consultation on the strategy. The strategy itself sets out five priority ‘missions’ to be taken to capitalise on the opportunities data offers. These are unlocking the value of data across the economy, securing a pro-growth and trusted data regime, transforming Government’s use of data to drive efficiency and improve public services, ensuring the security and resilience of the infrastructure on which data relies and, last but not least, championing the international flow of data.

Speaking ahead of a techUK event realised to launch the new forum, John Whittingdale said: “Through the pandemic, we’ve learned how to process data for the public good quicker, more efficiently and more responsibly. Now, we need to capitalise on those valuable lessons. We’re launching a new forum to support delivery of our National Data Strategy and help us become the world’s number one data destination, boosting growth and creating jobs while maintaining high standards of data protection and governance.”

Fight against COVID-19

The Government has committed to overhauling the way data is used in public services to improve life for people across the UK and points to the nation’s fight against COVID-19 as a prime example, whereby data was used quickly, efficiently and responsibly to model, predict and, ultimately, control the spread of the Coronavirus.

Climate data from the Met Office helped researchers around the world determine the link between seasonality and the transmission of the virus, while data sharing between healthcare trusts has helped in the development of faster treatment methods. The Government is now taking the next steps to look at how the country can leverage existing UK strengths to boost the use of data in business, Government and civil society.

Work to deliver the strategy is already underway. A £2.6 million data project to help in the detection of online harms has been launched. Last month, the Office for National Statistics’ Data Science Campus said it had already trained circa 700 public sector analysts to use cutting-edge data tools and techniques, in turn smashing the target set in September.

Respondents to the National Data Strategy consultation confirmed the need for action to make sure the UK realises the benefits from better data use and overwhelmingly agreed with the premise that the National Data Strategy provides an appropriate framework. Many respondents recognised a need to embrace data as an opportunity to drive productivity and innovation across the economy rather than as a threat to be managed, given the risks such as cyber attacks or data breaches.

A new Central Digital and Data Office has now been created to drive forward digital, data and technology transformation across Government.

Data Sharing Code

The Government is also presenting to Parliament a new Data Sharing Code to make it clearer and easier for firms to share data. The Data Sharing Code, which has been developed by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), provides practical advice to organisations on how to carry out responsible data sharing.

Further, the ICO has launched a data sharing information hub with guidance and practical tools to help businesses share data fairly, lawfully and transparently, while at the same time protecting people’s personal information.

Back in February, the Government launched the recruitment drive for a new Information Commissioner who will be empowered to make sure people can use data to achieve economic and social goals, as well as maintaining their focus on privacy. It’s also leading change on the global stage. As part of the UK’s G7 presidency, the Government brought together the world’s leading democracies only last month to agree an ambitious vision to put technology at the heart of global efforts to build back better from the pandemic.

Building on the momentum created by all of this, the UK will also host the Future Tech Forum this coming September which will convene like-minded democratic partners to discuss the role of technology and data in supporting open societies and tackling global challenges.

High data protection standards

Current UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham stated: “I welcome the publication of the Government’s response to the National Data Strategy consultation. It confirms the need for the UK to maintain high data protection standards, ensuring that our regulatory regime remains able to respond to the rapidly evolving technological and societal landscape. I also welcome the laying of the ICO’s Data Sharing Code in Parliament. Together with the National Data Strategy, the Data Sharing Code affords individuals and organisations confidence in using data to fuel economic growth, drive innovation and deliver efficient public services, while ensuring that people’s information is protected.”

Denham concluded: “Data is one of modern society’s greatest assets. Creating a framework of public trust and transparency for citizens will be crucial to harnessing its power in the coming decade. These latest announcements are significant milestones on that journey.”

techUK’s Sue Daley explained: “These announcements show how determined the Government is to make the UK a global destination for data innovation. techUK is excited to play our part in this as a co-chair of the National Data Strategy Forum. The latter will be central to bringing together the industry, academia and civil society in delivering a data strategy that supports innovation and is built on trust, helping unleash to the potential of data-driven technologies right across the UK.”

Cabinet Office Minister Julia Lopez concluded: “The Central Digital and Data Office is supporting the ambitions of the National Data Strategy by transforming central Government’s use of data to drive efficiency and improve public services. Our focus on improving data standards, ethics and quality across Government will lead to more personalised public services that save the taxpayer money.”

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