Plans to support Britain’s tech sector could see the industry de-regulated as the government hopes to steam further ahead of its European counterparts.
Unveiled this week, the government’s Plan for Digital Regulation aims to “reduce red tape” and cut down on “cumbersome and confusing” policies.
According to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the plans form part of the government’s vision to “drive prosperity through pro-innovation regulation” and free up businesses to innovate, grow and create jobs.
“How we govern digital technologies is one of the most pressing issues of our age,” according to Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden. “Today, we are setting out a pro-growth vision to shape the future.”
“Our principles-based approach will ensure innovation is embedded in any new regulation, and we will look to reduce red tape to enable our vibrant tech sector to thrive,” he added.
The new plan outlines three “guiding principles” to which policymakers will adhere moving forward, the DCMS confirmed.
This includes ensuring that the government actively promotes innovation and only regulates “when absolutely necessary”.
“Digital technologies are evolving fast and transforming traditional sectors across the economy,” the DCMS said. “So policymakers must make sure new regulation complements, rather than contradicts, existing and planned legislation.”
Under the new approach, policymakers will actively seek to remove “unnecessary regulation and burdens” placed upon digital tech companies and place a strong focus on boosting technical standards.
Similarly, the government must also consider changes to the global regulatory landscape, as well as the impact of trade agreements upon the nation’s digital tech sector.
“They [policymakers] must always consider the international dynamics of proposed regulation – from our existing international obligations including trade deals, expected future agreements, and the impact of regulations developed by other nations,” the DCMS said.
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techUK CEO Julian David welcomed the proposals as a “strong start” which underlines the government’s commitment to creating an “innovation-focused regulatory system”.
“Creating a framework for digital regulation that promotes innovation is a global challenge. If the UK can get this right, we can drive discussions at the international level and build on our reputation as a leading digital economy,” he said.
Notably, the plan outlines practical proposals to support a more “streamlined regulatory landscape,” which includes improvements to information sharing between regulators and efforts to foster closer working ties.
To support the delivery of this collaborative approach, the government said it will work closely with the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF), chaired by Ofcom chief executive Melanie Dawes.
This voluntary forum includes key regulatory stakeholders such as the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and Ofcom.
“With online services playing an increasingly critical role in all our lives, we created the DRCF to deliver a coherent, coordinated and clear approach to online regulation,” Dawes commented.
“We look forward to working closely with the UK government to create a regulatory environment in which business and innovation can continue to thrive, and where everybody can enjoy the enormous benefits of being online safely.”
De-regulation, what’s the worst that could happen?
These latest plans are consistent with the government’s messaging on tech industry regulation. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been vocal on the subject of regulation while prominent Tory backbenchers have signalled their desire to scrap lingering regulatory hurdles since leaving the European Union.
Government-backed research into Britain’s post-Brexit data options, for example, recommended that GDPR be scrapped in order to cut red tape and foster innovation.
The Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform, led by Sir Iain Duncan Smith, George Freeman and Theresa Villiers, suggested that GDPR restricts the use of data for “worthwhile purposes,” stifles innovation and “overwhelms” citizens due to its complexity.
The taskforce recommended a regulatory declutter for a number of fast-growing sectors, so it comes as no surprise that Britain’s tech industry falls within this category.
In recent years, the British tech industry has grown rapidly, contributing more than £151bn to the economy – according to 2019 statistics – and employing at least two million people.
Last year, despite a challenging operating environment due to the Covid pandemic, the tech sector attracted more venture capital funding than France and Germany combined, with £11.2bn flowing into British tech companies.