Rt. Hon. Lord Mandelson, First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills, Lord President of the Council
Britain Summit, British Library, London, 17 April 2009
It was probably inevitable that during the debate sparked by Digital Britain, for which many thanks to Stephen, much of the media coverage around it would focus on the future of public service broadcasting.
Everyone has a view - funding and quality, not uniformity. Commercial as well as Beeb.
But the imperative and scope of this work of Digital Britain goes much wider. It goes to the very heart of UK industrial success in this century, the nature of the jobs we will do and the lives we lead and want to lead in the future.
Right now, we’re experiencing some of the toughest business conditions and biggest changes in the global economy for generations.
But that is not a reason for standing still, doing nothing in the face of this attack on the economy, as some seem to advocate.
The world is also on the edge of a new industrial revolution. At least one, driven by the world’s shift to low-carbon and the immense power and potential offered by digital technologies.
The challenge that sets for business and government in Britain is clear. The UK’s economy will continue to be driven by knowledge. Our future success lies in high-level skills and creativity and innovation by our people.
If we’re to secure our position in global value chains we must continue to support an environment that fosters business success in our country.
Develop our strengths as a knowledge-based economy with high-value technology at its core. Which I recall, I last set out at the DTI in 1998.
And do all we can to enable British businesses and workers to seize the opportunities now emerging in the markets and sectors, which are essential to our economic future.
And don’t believe the gloom merchants who talk Britain down! Yes, we are in a painful recession but changes are happening in the world’s economy, which play to our advantage.
To grow our way out of the recession, speed our recovery and to put in place conditions for future economic success as a country.
The Government’s role in pioneering what to do next to seize these opportunities will be the subject of an industrial policy statement on Monday.
Central to our ambition will be ensuring the competitive edge of our digital, communication and creative industries.
Important in their own right, these sectors have been home to some of the UK’s biggest success stories over the last decade - generating billions for our economy.
But these industries are also fundamental to the future of all UK businesses.
Broadband isn’t just going to underwrite the communications industry; it will redefine the productivity and competitiveness of UK companies for decades to come.
We’re already seeing its impact on business models across all sectors. Also opening up new forms of communication between customers and business, the public and Government, politicians and their constituents. And not a moment too soon.
I remember at DTI in 1998, I tried to pioneer convergence. Then just a buzzword, it is now a reality. Creating an explosion of opinion, images, music, media services and online commerce and support.
That means an even greater demand for information, access and new ways of doing business and conducting our lives.
Content, formats, applications and services are all areas where the UK excels and sells around the world. So it is even more critical for Britain than for many other countries to have a framework that ensures those who create that content can successfully uphold their right to exploit it both in the home market and around the globe.
This is one of the most important bridges to our economic future. And I believe there’s a clear, strategic role for Government to help make it a reality.
The UK can’t take its pioneer status for granted. We’re not the only country in the game. Other Governments are looking at what needs to be done to make this step change a reality.
France with its comprehensive digital plan in France Numerique 2012.
President Obama has set out an ambitious digital programme for the US. And the Australian Government.
The market, unaided, will provide some of the next generation infrastructure that the UK needs. But government cannot be indifferent to the wider national needs for a globally competitive economy.
Can we rest comfortable with the thought that only half of Britain’s homes and perhaps fewer small businesses will have access to next generation broadband over the next few years? I don’t think so.
In wireless infrastructure, the radio-spectrum is a national asset. And we all need to be sure its deployed wisely, so the market can accelerate the arrival of competitive next generation mobile networks.
As a government, we also need to make sure that transformational technologies like broadband are genuinely available to everyone. We are working in Europe to ensure that legislation enshrines a shift to universal broadband services from existing basic telephony.
Digital Britain seeks to answer these and other questions for our digital economy.
What we need, and what Digital Britain makes the case for, is a commitment to develop policies and initiatives that establish the stable and predictable framework the private sector rightly demands to take the right commercial decisions, and deliver the best, most cost-effective technologies.
This is a model for a new activism in industrial policy - a cross-government approach that aligns our action in skills, infrastructure and innovation to ensure UK business and its employees can succeed in a rapidly changing, intensely competitive global low-carbon economy.
Bringing forward where such transformational change - like the shift to digital communications - is critical to our future economic success, Government action to help drive that change and ensure UK firms have the capacity to compete for the economic opportunities it brings.
Let me just say this to you in conclusion, in the last ten years, we’ve seen technology tear down the boundaries between your industries and business, content production and consumption. It’s brought both challenge and opportunity to our lives and to our work.
The Government’s role remains as ever, to help build the most dynamic and competitive UK economy possible and create the best environment for your companies to succeed.
But in today’s brave new converged world - we do need to find a new, more flexible and more active approach. That is what Digital Britain will be about. That is what we are planning and you are contributing to today and thank you for what you are doing to realise this vision for Britain. Future jobs and livelihoods depend on it. Thank you.