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Internet Companies Call On Government To Use Its Upcoming Digital Strategy To ‘Lock In’ The Benefits Of Rapid Growth In Use Of Technology During The Coronavirus Pandemic

“The way people work, shop, and do business may have changed for good – it is clear that the internet sector can help ensure that those changes boost the UK economy, communities, and wider society.”

Daniel Dyball, UK Executive Director

London, UK – The internet was vital in keeping the nation going during the coronavirus lockdown and will be key to driving the UK’s economic recovery, a new Internet Association (IA) report reveals today. 

After Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced in June that the government would be launching a new Digital Strategy, this report from internet companies lays out their vision for a digital-led recovery for the first time. ‘Digital Nation: An Internet-Enabled Recovery’ details how the internet industry will play a significant role by driving the economic recovery, powering our communities, and making society better. 

The report also includes the views of the public through new polling, with the results showing the internet played a vital role during the coronavirus pandemic, and will be crucial in helping enable the UK’s recovery.

The findings showed:

  • Eighty-one percent of people believe that the internet has a role to play in supporting businesses who will not open fully in the coming months and years.
  • Three-quarters of the public (75 percent) agree that businesses and organisations that adopt technology will be more productive and in turn help speed up the post-pandemic recovery.

The new research also highlights how vital the internet was to the public during the height of the pandemic:

  • Eighty-nine percent of people in the UK felt the internet was either essential or important to them during the height of the pandemic. 
  • Half of the UK public (50 percent) bought a product or service from a local business via the internet during the lockdown because they could not visit the premises as normal.
  • Over 8 million adults in the UK joined a community group such as a residents’ association or a neighbourhood or church group on the internet during the pandemic.
  • Three-quarters of the UK public (76 percent) said that the internet was important in helping them stay in touch with family and friends.

UK Executive Director Daniel Dyball said: “This new research shows how the internet played a vital role during the lockdown. Importantly, it also shows how the internet can help drive the UK recovery forward. The way people work, shop, and do business may have changed for good – it is clear that the internet sector can help ensure that those changes boost the UK economy, communities, and wider society.”

The report also includes a series of recommendations as the government prepares its new Digital Strategy. IA believes that there is no better place for the government to start than encouraging the internet sector in trying to meet the ambition to “level-up” the UK economy – with particular focus on those constituencies that have a below-average number of internet businesses, to ensure we have an internet-led levelling-up right across the UK.

And building on the increased collaboration with the internet industry seen during the pandemic, IA calls on policymakers to implement a range of initiatives to maximise the sector’s contribution to the UK’s economic recovery, including:

  • “Lock in” the benefits of faster adoption of digital technology. The UK has seen a decade’s worth of digital transformation occur in just a few months during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the government should encourage further adoption of digital technology across the entire economy to boost productivity and innovation in businesses large and small.
  • Provide universal access to digital skills training and prevent a “digital divide”. The benefits of the internet will only be maximised if British people have the skills to take full advantage. The government should prevent a “digital divide” emerging between those who can and cannot take advantage of all the internet has to offer, through investing in digital skills training and education, and supporting the faster rollout of superfast broadband across the UK.
  • Encourage inflows of tech talent and investment. The UK is already a significant hub for foreign tech investment, and the government should seek to attract even more investment from abroad, as well as ensuring the immigration system – such as the Global Talent visa – encourages foreign tech talent to come to the UK and work alongside world-leading British talent.

Dyball continued: “The government’s new Digital Strategy is a fantastic opportunity to drive forward an ambitious agenda of growth – ensuring that the internet sector is front and centre in helping the UK economy recover, but also in powering communities and improving society. We stand ready to work with government to create a Digital Strategy that levels up the nation.”

Commenting on the report, Andrei Cazacu, Policy Manager at BritishAmerican Business said: “Over the past 5 months we have seen just how important the internet is: it allowed many people to switch to working remotely, it’s helped to keep our pantries stocked and our children entertained; it has helped keep entire communities together in a time of crisis. Our digital infrastructure has kept large parts of society running. Harnessing the digital revolution will speed up the post-COVID19 economic recovery. We very much welcome Internet Association’s report, which provides a roadmap to a thriving UK digital ecosystem, of which digital trade will be a cornerstone.”

Matthew Lesh, Head of Research at Adam Smith Institute said: “In this year’s darkest hours the internet has allowed us to connect with loved ones, strengthened our communities and enabled small businesses to thrive against adversity. We have stayed physically apart but socially connected thanks to the internet. This crisis has shown the internet is simply too important to undermine with new red tape — it’s time for a rethink about how we can best enable the sector.”

To read the full report, click here.

To read a summary of the report, click here.

To see the full survey, click here.