Speech: Labour’s Digital Jobs Revolution

by Liam Byrne | 21.11.17

Labour’s Digital Jobs Revolution

Remarks to the Parliament & Internet Conference: Parliament and the Internet



Now, it used to be said that to err is human, but to really mess things up you need a computer.

No more. At least not outside the Department for Work and Pensions.

Digital is changing our lives – and though we marvel at the speed of change, actually we need it to go faster.

Why do I say that?

Because, since the Great Financial Crisis, the Government has presided over a recovery that is slower – that’s right, slower – than after the Great Depression.

Our productivity is the worst in the G7.

Government debt has doubled.

Living standards are worse than 10 years ago.

That’s terrible.

At the core of the error was a supply-side philosophy that argued supply of capital was the key to growth.

So: at the heart of fiscal strategy was a plan to cut corporate taxes by 25x more than the increase to the science spend.

That was a terrible mistake as firms largely banked the cash and investment simply faltered:

  • The result? Britain, the home of the Industrial Revolution, the birthplace of great thinkers from Isaac Newton to Tim Berners Lee, no longer makes the WEF’s top 10 list of the world’s most innovative countries.
  • That is indeed an incitement.

Here’s the key insight.

In the 21st century, it’s not supply of capital that’s key.

It’s supply of innovation – growing the number of tech jobs is the key to giving Britain a pay rise and returning Britain to growth.

  • Today there’s about 1.6 million digital jobs – still only a fraction of the workforce – but they pay 40% more than the national average.
  • We need many, many more of them.

Our goal: We will create an innovation nation with the greatest proportion of high-skilled jobs in the OECD.

Now, to achieve that, we need an enriched mix of people, ideas and money plus infrastructure plus trust.

Let me start with money.

We will move towards spending 3% of our GDP on Research and Development by 2030 transforming the investment available for science and innovation.

The first step will be to raise R&D spending to 1.85% of GDP, by committing to an additional £1.3 billion of public investment in our first two years in office

Second, we’ll transform the pipeline of skills.

  • Introducing a National Education Service, including provision of adult education and life-long learning, so that working people are able to reskill throughout their life-times.
  • Introduce free, life-long education in FE colleges, enabling everyone to upskill or retrain at any point in life.
  • Abolish tuition fees for anyone studying their first undergraduate degree.
  • Double the number of completed apprenticeships at level 3 from 94,000 in 2015-16 to 200,000 by the end of the Parliament.
  • Invest in FE teachers and facilities to enable the sector to remain a world-leading provider of adult and vocational education.

Infrastructure is vital and as anyone who’s tried to get a mobile signal in here – or on your journey here – will know:

Our goal is to future-proof the UK’s digital infrastructure; introducing a Universal Service Obligation of superfast broadband (30 Megabits per second) to be delivered by 2022 and we’ll instruct the National Infrastructure Commission to report on how to roll-out ‘ultrafast’ broadband across the UK within the next decade.

Finally, on privacy, data protection and content regulation. we’ll soon begin work on our digital bill of rights – which in turn will help shape our approach to cyber-crime.

Final point.

My job is work through the details of turning these ideas into action – and you’ll be delighted to learn that you’re going to help me.

It doesn’t make sense to me to make digital policy in a way that isn’t digital.

In 2015, the Speakers Commission on Digital Democracy proposed that Parliament should be fully interactive and digital by 2020.

Since then, little has happened.

Over the last year, I’ve been one of Britain’s pioneers of civic tech.

So, later this year, I will launch once of parliament’s first experiments in civic tech, to help ensure that in the months ahead Parliament is able to draw on the best ideas anywhere

Back in 1660, thinkers from two opposing sides in the Civil War came together in Gresham College after an astronomy lecture delivered by Sir Christopher Wren. The result of that epic meeting was the creation of the Royal Society which went on to become the engine room of 18th Century progress. That effort in collaboration changed our country for good. As we sail towards Brexit, I’d humbly suggest that in the national interest, it’s time to rediscover that spirit.

Thank you.

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