Every day, the media is full of debate and challenge about what kind of society the United Kingdom can and should build in this new “age of austerity.” How much should we spend on public services? How can we foster entrepreneurialism? How do we support a growing and an aging population? The questions are important, and yet I feel the debate often fails to reflect properly on one of the biggest changes to the world of the last 20 years, changes that can help us combat each one of these challenges more effectively.

Digital is too often seen as relating only to hardware or software issues. The enormous power digitisation has to transform our economic, social, and civic worlds is still ignored.

Today, Go ON UK and Booz & Company will finally put the digital agenda at the heart of the agenda of economists, politicians, and social reformers, with the publication of ‘This is for Everyone: The Case for Universal Digitisation,’ It is the first report I have seen that links these worlds together and gives us a complete picture of the scale of the opportunity now on offer to the U.K.

Yes, the £63 billion potential GDP uplift is eye-catching. Digital clearly offers growth, particularly to the small and medium-sized enterprise sector. But far greater digital capability offers so much more: improvements in education, connecting the elderly and isolated to their communities more effectively, helping people back into work, and better health and social services. All these benefits make their greatest impact on the lives of the marginalized sections of society.

There are 10.8 million people in the U.K. who do not use the Internet, and they are consequently more vulnerable. As Booz & Company shows, this is no longer something we can dismiss as somebody else’s problem. We gain the full benefits ourselves only if everyone is online. The lack of basic digital skills for millions means “digitisation” is unbalanced—we will increasingly fall short of the U.K.’s potential if we do not start to address the problem.

That’s why this is such an urgent national priority and why Go ON UK, a cross-sector charity, which I chair, is taking a lead in broadening the skills of individuals and organisations. But it is too big a job for even this impressive group of partners.

The U.K. should grasp this moment to shape its own digital future. It should be a future in which no one is left behind and in which the benefits of digital are shared by all. That’s why I ask everyone— individuals, families, charities, businesses, and the government—to help unlock the powerful social and economic prize that waits us.

As Tim Berners-Lee said: “The Web as I envisage it, we have not seen it yet. The future is still so much bigger than the past.”

My thanks to Booz & Company for their valuable work. For a copy of the full report, click here.

5 thoughts on “The £63 Billion Missed Opportunity

  1. The fundamental requirement upon which all else rests is access to super fast broadband, and an efficient system not just for installation but for relocation. People do move!

    My experience during the last two years during which I moved from an urban to a rural environment and back again, is that the provision of such an infrastructure is utterly shambolic.

    I moved to Knoydart in Scotland to find that the existing Avant satellite broadband, installed with government funding would not be transferred to me as a new customer. Weeks of wrangling with Avanti and support eventually from the Scotish govt eventually sorted the problem. But it was weeks. Of not being able to simply get on with running a web site and business.

    In October I returned to Bolton from Knoydart in Scotland and took up a place on a distance learning course and plans for Internet retailing. I am STILL WAITING for BT to install a home telephone line and broadband. The date now given is 27th December – order placed 28th Oct.

    I initially struggled by with intermittant use of a nearby BTWiFi hotspot, but this freqently drops out and now is no longer broadcasting. I’m depending upon my mobile Internet, but being hammered by fair usage policy.

    Discussions both in the real world and on social media indicate to me that these problems are far, far from unusual.

    At first base, the digital infrastructure needs sorting out. I am personally loosing, not just money, but also my sanity. Overall the cost to the economy must be gigantic.

  2. Checkout a Google search for ‘BT installation delays’ . The pages of results and stories quite staggering. BT made a profit of 1.19 billion pounds in the first six months of their current financial year whilst making extensive cuts to operational costs. They should be regulated and fined for failing to meet reasonable standards of service.

  3. My broadband provided by BT, is along a cable left unburied on a farm track, and has been run over by tractors and lorries repeatedly. BT said they would come back to bury it, the priority was to connect me and gain revenue. This was eleven (yes) years ago. If I get a response to my complaints of 0.6 Mb/s ‘speed’ on a good day, I am told monies are unavailable and there are no plans to upgrade this area of Scotland in the future. This area is over 1000 square miles. Visitors from Finland inform me they have fibre optics 80MB speeds as a minimum, 200 miles from an exchange. and it cost them a £40 contribution. Meanwhile I get junk email from Warren Buckley enticing me with TV offers. Meanwhile iPlayer will not even buffer let alone run.

  4. Many people involved in start ups produce a string of reasons why it is tough: funding is not available, long hours with no reward, no access to the right mentors etc.

    The fact is that a passion and belief in what you are trying will drive you forward, and a willingness to challenge ideas will lead to success.

  5. As ever this feels like entrenched big businesses wanting to fight battles with their rivals rather than exploring new areas (and wanting to be paid to do it). It is notable that in Oxford the first places that got highspeed broadband from BT/openleach were areas that were served by Birgin highspeed boadband i.e. extending the digital divide. I bet the first places that operach offer its new fibre services to rural oxfordshire will be shipton under wychwood and kingham precisly because they are already being served by another group http://oxonrb.net/
    This is about big business wanting to go for the safe option and wanting to be paid cost plus to supply basic service anywhere else

    what we need is to see broadband as being like roads, something that is supplied as a basic need to everyone. Everyone should have FTTH not just Fibre to the exchange and whatever you can get to the home. Companies can then compete on what packages you want to recive – which could be a pure data play or a bundled TV/phone/data. It’s how we do it now for cars – the goverment supplies the roads and we choose what vehicles and fuel we want to use. You can travel the roads for free by bicycle or pay through road tax and fuel duty for faster and more comfortable service. yes it cost lots of money to uild and service the network but can you imagine the UK functioning without a road system?

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