UK government to train hundreds of data scientists in tech 'revolution'

·Finance and policy reporter
·2 min read
People walk past The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport building on Whitehall in London. (Photo by Dinendra Haria / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
The UK government is expanding its use of data science. Photo: Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/Sipa USA

The UK government has announced hundreds of public sector staff will be trained in data science this year, as it launched a new “data strategy” for Britain.

Ministers and officials hope to transform the government’s use of data to improve public services and drive efficiency, as well as opening up more data to the public.

The government, which is now consulting on the strategy, wants to be known as the “world’s most digitally advanced.” A new chief data officer will be appointed to lead the initiative, with recruitment ongoing.

500 analysts will be trained up in data and data science by 2021. Up to ten people will also be hired as part of new “innovation fellowships” across departments, echoing a similar initiative in the US.

Other initiatives include exploring how to increase teaching of data skills among undergraduate students, and building T-levels — new courses which follow GCSEs and are equivalent to 3 A levels — that include digital skill qualifications.

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A “Smart Data” initiative could create new ways for consumers and small- and medium-sized firms to use their own data to find better tariffs in areas like telecoms, energy and pensions. The move, which will require new legislation, may “open the doors to disruptors in every part of the marketplace,” according to the government.

Tech chiefs and experts welcomed the plans for a new data strategy.

Sue Daley, associate director of technology and innovation at tech firm lobby group TechUK, said unlocking data’s power had “never been more important.”

“A national data vision and strategy for realising the full economic and social value of data is vital to driving social good, innovation, competition, economic growth, productivity and job creation,” she said.

UK government IT projects have a chequered history, from an aborted £11bn ($14.2bn) NHS project to the delayed universal credit rollout and coronavirus test-and-trace app.

But digital secretary Oliver Dowden said the coronavirus had shown “just how much we can achieve when we can share high-quality data quickly, efficiently, and ethically.”

“Our new National Data Strategy will maintain the high watermark of data use set during the pandemic — freeing up businesses, government and organisations to innovate, experiment and drive a new era of growth.

“I am absolutely clear that data and data use are opportunities to be embraced, rather than a threat to be guarded against.”