On a digital refusenik Minister

Less is more for politicians on social media, it seems. Too many tweets, and a balloon effigy of you as a giant orange baby is floated above Parliament Square. But not enough tweets, and you’re made the new Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Much has been made of Jeremy Wright’s lack of digital credentials as compared to his predecessor Matt Hancock. Still, the tech sector has surely become accustomed to its dwindling representation at the heart of government, ever since equestrian expert Caroline Nokes took the Cabinet Office digital brief in 2017, followed by ex-PR man Oliver Dowden.

Digital refusenik or no, we should note Wright’s credentials as a lawyer and previous Attorney General. His appointment suggests that DCMS may be spending rather more time worrying about post-Brexit legal frameworks for tech and media (including data protection), and rather less time acting as digital cheerleader. As the British government finally publishes its Brexit blueprint, suggesting that the UK will leave the Digital Single Market that it originally instigated, it’s clear that cross-border tech will not escape unaffected.

Of course the real digital cheerleader at the heart of government remains Matt Hancock, whose genuine engagement with tech will accompany him into his first big Cabinet role as the new Secretary for Health and Social Care.

This is great news for ICT suppliers, particularly in context of the £20bn funding for NHS reform: technology, including AI and other advanced data and analytical tools, are badly needed to transform service delivery and patient outcomes. We’re eagerly anticipating a Green Paper on social care to be published this autumn, and the potential of another major Government funding announcement for social care. Hancock’s top priority will need to be ensuring that, despite all the turmoil going on in Government right now, this once-in-a generation opportunity for ICT-enabled change isn’t missed.

(With John O’Brien, originally published on Government Computing)

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