Looking ahead to 2016 (in tech policy)

One of the best things about no longer working in government is that I can now pretty much say whatever I like. And if you follow me on Twitter you’ll see that I took to this new freedom well… But despite pieces for Tech City News and The Memo, I haven’t done as much writing as I would like.

As any casual reader of pop-behavioural economics books will know, making a public commitment to something can be a good strategy to hold yourself to it.

So as the season for making resolutions approaches, I’m going to try it out — in 2016 I want to write more. And this is the start.

2016

Not the most original of formats, but I’m going to start with a look ahead at some of the things we know are coming in tech policy. It’s going to be a busy year!

Digital Economy Strategy (and Bill?)

First on the list is the newly announced call for ideas for a ‘Digital Economy Strategy’ revealed this week by Digital Economy minister Ed Vaizey.

This is a big opportunity for those of us who seek to influence government policy when it comes to tech and startup policy. They are genuinely looking for new ideas about where to focus their energies next.

It’s a very open-ended call for ideas, and unlike most government consultations doesn’t have a fixed list of questions.

There’s a tight deadline, with responses due by 19th January. I understand that this is with the aim of writing an actual new government ‘Digital Economy Strategy’ to launch in February. This would be in good time for the next Budget (in March), and may even be the groundwork for a new Digital Economy Bill that has been rumoured for some time.

My impression is that as well as some cross-cutting stuff (e.g. connectivity and skills), government will likely pick some new verticals to do more work on (they’ve already done fairly deep dives into fintech and the sharing economy for example).

Coadec (the startup policy advocacy organisation I lead) will be putting in a formal response, but in the meantime, this is the start of a tweetstorm I did with some initial ideas.

I highly recommend you also send in your thoughts if you’re interested. Opportunities like this don’t come around very often. Email (anything really) to digitalstrategy@culture.gov.uk.

London Mayoral Elections

In May London will go to the polls to elect a new mayor, and for the first time since 2008, Boris Johnson will not be on the ballot paper (his ambitions are loftier these days).

Cities are the right unit of analysis when it comes to thinking about tech ecosystems and policy, so the next Mayor will matter. While London Mayors haven’t had as much power as many of their counterparts around the world (eg in New York), this is slowly changing. Mayors and local government are increasingly being given more control (and budgets) over their cities.

In May it will be Labour’s Sadiq Khan up against Tory Zac Goldsmith, and Sadiq enters the new year as the front-runner. Both have expressed an interest in technology, although Sadiq does seem to said more publicly about his positions, notably raising concerns about the lack of affordable office space, immigration and skills.

To influence the debate, Coadec is organising a London Startup Manifesto (building on the model of its national Startup Manifesto ahead of the General Election). Do get in touch if you’d like to be involved.

There’s also an effort to create a broader London Tech Manifesto being led by techUK, The Centre for London and Tech London Advocates. They are hosting a hustings for the candidates on February 9th, so a date for the diary!

Investigatory Powers Bill

The government is trying to overhaul and update the UK’s framework for investigatory powers.

After publishing their Draft Bill in November, the text of the proposed new Investigatory Powers legislation is currently being examined by a Joint Bill committee.

The deadline for written evidence has already passed, but they are still taking oral evidence, and are expected to publish their report by February 11th. Soon after this, the government is likely to introduce their revised version of the Bill, after which it should make speedy progress through parliament.

The most contentious areas have been new powers to require the retention of ‘internet connection records’, as well as a lack of clarity on encryption. The Home Office’s approach has been less aggressive than in the past, and they feel they have already toned down many proposals, so any further changes are likely to come with a fight.

Immigration changes to come

Some time last month the government’s Migration Advisory Committee will have sent their latest report to ministers. This report was commissioned by the government to:

advise on changes to Tier 2 to address concerns about the rising number of migrants in that route and reliance on them to fill shortages

In other words, they’re looking to reduce numbers using the Tier 2 visa route, which is the main way for companies to hire skilled workers from outside the EU.

This report should be made public some time this month, shortly after which we can expect new policy announcements from the government itself. They often follow the MAC’s advice, so the contents of the report will be very important.

This is why Coadec launched a #SaveSkilledMigration campaign to try to make sure that any changes to the Tier 2 system don’t harm digital startups and scale-ups who rely on international talent to grow. Fingers crossed…

EU referendum heats up

We still don’t know whether the referendum itself will be held this year (the deadline set by the Prime Minister is the end of 2017), but it’s certain that the debate over Brexit will heat up this year.

Despite Douglas Carswell’s attempt to rally the tech community around #DigitalSaysLeave, most people seemed to disagree.

The surveys I’ve seen both suggest that the tech community is in favour of staying in a reformed EU: techUK say that 70% of members want to stay in a reformed EU, while Tech London Advocates say that 87% of their members want to stay.

This will be the year when those voices (and those opposing) become more vocal. Check out the replies to Eileen’s tweet above, to see quite how vocal it can get…

Conclusion

So it’s going to be a busy year, and there are plenty of things I’ve left out (including on the EU’s digital single market strategy, and a continued focus from the UK government on fintech, including hopefully the launch of an open bank API standard).

I’m also going to try to keep up more writing, so do hold me to it.

And it you’re interested in a more regular update on tech policy do sign up for Coadec’s Week in Startup Policy which goes out every Friday.