Queen’s Speech approaches key themes for UK tech

This year’s Queen’s Speech approached a number of topics that are relevant to the UK technology industry as the government works towards a national recovery following the Covid-19 crisis.

Delivered on Tuesday (11 May) by Queen Elizabeth II, the speech laid out the agenda for Parliament. It touched on priority actions, from supporting jobs to driving economic growth, as well as the well-being of citizens and addressing the impact of the pandemic on public services.

Reading out the bills the government hopes to pass over the next year, the Queen outlined several new tech-related legislative proposals, starting with the framework needed to establish a national advanced research agency, the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill.

“My ministers will oversee the fastest ever increase in public funding for research and development,” the monarch noted.

Legislation will be introduced to counter hostile activity by foreign states, the Queen said, under the Counter-State Threats Bill and the Telecommunications Security Bill. Moreover, the government will seek to ensure further investment in national infrastructure, including an extension of 5G mobile coverage and gigabit-capable broadband, under the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill.

According to the chief executive of industry organisation TechUK, Julian David, the bill aims to ensure that digital products and devices are cyber secure and accelerate the deployment of digital infrastructure, including 5G and gigabit broadband.

“Cyber security is a top priority for tech businesses. To get this legislation right, the government must continue to engage with industry on the key technical standards, how security can be kept up to date as future threats emerge, and ensure the regulatory framework is workable and proportionate,” said David.

“The UK must also ensure that our approach is compatible with our partners and allies to prevent risks to supply chains and the availability of the latest products,” he added.

Still on the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill, the TechUK chief executive noted that the proposals must also ensure telecoms operators are supported as they roll out 5G and gigabit-capable broadband faster and more efficiently to consumers and small and medium-sized businesses.

“Reforms to the Electronic Communications Code are welcome, particularly the focus on sharing and reusing existing infrastructure,” David noted. “The changes should support all operators in the telecoms sector, mobile and fixed, and distinguish between rural and urban environments, to ensure all UK consumers benefit from the roll-out of next-generation connectivity.”

Moreover, the UK is expected to “lead the way” in terms of providing safe internet access, especially for children, the Queen said, referring to the Online Safety Bill. Such improvements will be introduced “whilst harnessing the benefits of a free, open and secure internet”.

According to David, the online safety legislation will be “one of the first major attempts to regulate user-generated content online”. Given that this is a global issue, the executive said “the world’s eyes will be on the UK”. He also noted that the tech sector and the government have the same discourse – of ensuring online safety while protecting freedom of speech and innovation.

“Designing a system to protect children and society online, in practice as well as on paper, means working with the industry to ensure there are clear legal definitions of what constitutes harmful online content, setting out the responsibilities that companies of different sizes have to observe and establishing clear codes of practice,” he noted.

Measures outlined in the Queen’s Speech under the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill will also support “a lifetime skills guarantee” to ensure flexible access to education and training throughout people’s lives. According to David, this is a “significant step forward”. TechUK also welcomed proposals to bring employers into the post-16 skills system through Skills Accelerators, allowing them to work alongside educators to deliver local skills plans.

According to David, introducing flexible funding for post-16 education and bringing employers into publicly funded training programmes has been a key task for the tech sector. “Working together we need to open up more accessible pathways to enable people from diverse backgrounds to access in-demand tech jobs,” he pointed out.

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