23 July 2019

Boris Johnson must get behind Britain’s internet economy

By Daniel Dyball

For many of us, the internet is something we can no longer live without. It makes our lives easier and better. It allows us to connect with loved ones, build communities, access information and is driving economic activity at a significant rate of knots.

At times throughout the past few years, though, that positivity hasn’t always come through in the debate around the internet. Undoubtedly, the new Prime Minister will be keen to inject optimism into a number of policy areas as he seeks a clean break from the past. For tech and the internet in the UK, there is certainly plenty to be positive about – with the sector currently receiving a huge vote of confidence from consumers and investors. In 2018, over £6bn of venture capital was invested in UK tech – more than any other European country. And investment in scaleup digital tech firms increased by over 60%.

It has been reassuring to see promises by candidates during the Conservative Party leadership contest on tech that will build on this growth. Policies like delivering priorities such as fibre broadband would allow more people to benefit from the fantastic products and services that faster internet can offer.

By building a positive, outward looking agenda to help the UK thrive after Brexit, the new Prime Minister can help ensure the internet sector in the UK can continue to grow. In 2016 alone, the internet contributed approximately £45 billion in Gross Value Added, from nearly 80,000 businesses supporting approximately 400,000 jobs. Those businesses create products that are used and loved by consumers every day.

Of course, internet companies recognise the legitimate concerns with how some internet products and services are used. That is why they have engaged openly and constructively with government throughout the recent Online Harms White Paper process.

With the right policy environment – one that strikes a balance between the vast opportunities for growth and innovation and addressing concerns about online harms on the other – the UK can cement its place at the top table for tech and the internet.

By stepping up the level of partnership with the internet industry, we can together foster an environment that continues to support the UK’s thriving tech sector and promote growth, investment, jobs and innovation in the UK. With faster adoption of digital technology across the entire economy, the internet can boost productivity and encourage innovation.

And, importantly, internet companies will continue to work closely with government and wider society to get any future regulation on the internet right. Internet Association has engaged with government and laid out its thoughts on the White Paper. There is much to be welcomed in the current proposals. The emphasis on digital literacy that help people develop the skills to safely navigate the online world, and the wider vision held by the government of ensuring a free, open and secure internet. But IA was also clear that there are a number of ways in which the White Paper can be improved, and we look forward to continuing our work with the new government to do that.

It is precisely because there is so much at stake when it comes to regulating the online world that internet companies are keen to work with government to get this right. A policy environment that nurtures and encourages growth, and takes advantage of everything good that the internet has to offer. And if that environment ceases to exist in the UK, it will continue to grow in other countries.

The new Prime Minister will be keen to inject a sense of positivity and optimism into his government. By sharing some of that new-found energy with the internet sector, the benefits could be enormous.

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Daniel Dyball is UK Executive Director of the Internet Association