Digital strategy 'must focus on small businesses'

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The government has been urged to make sure that its new digital strategy focuses on small businesses.

Earlier this week, the government unveiled plans to deliver "world-class connectivity" in the UK and create a "thriving, outward-looking digital economy".

Among the measures proposed is the creation of a Business Connectivity Forum, which would be chaired by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and bring together business organisations, local authorities and communications providers.

Ministers believe this body could help ensure businesses are able to access fast, affordable and reliable broadband.

However, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has urged the government to ensure the digital strategy retains a firm focus on the needs and requirements of smaller ventures.

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the body, said this is because small businesses will be "key to driving digital transformation and productivity".

"The digital gap for small businesses hinders productivity and growth," he commented.

"For the UK to be the best place in the world to do business, we need fit for purpose digital infrastructure and help for small businesses to develop their businesses online."

Mr Cherry pointed out that mobile phones are critical for nearly three-quarters of small businesses across the UK.

This, he said, means that while delivering 5G is important, ensuring basic mobile coverage is also crucial, as many FSB members feel it is "lacking" at the moment.

"Action is needed to tackle these 'not-spots' and to achieve the government’s promised broadband Universal Service Obligation for all businesses across the country," Mr Cherry said.

He went on to state that the government's commitment in the digital strategy to boosting skills and confidence to go online is particularly vital, as two-fifths of small businesses believe digital skills are "crucial to their future growth".

However, Mr Cherry stressed that tackling the skills gap needs to start early, As a result, he is pleased the government has pledged to teach new skills such as coding to more young people.

Nevertheless, he insisted this "cannot be a one-off", as free basic digital skills training throughout everyone’s working lives "will be just as important for UK business to remain competitive in the global economy".

Karen Bradley, the culture, media and sport secretary, said this week that the government's Digital Strategy "sets a path to make Britain the best place to start and grow a digital business"

"The UK’s world-leading digital sectors are a major driver of growth and productivity, and we are determined to protect and strengthen them," she said.

Ms Bradley also insisted that ministers will work closely with businesses and other stakeholders to ensure the benefits and opportunities are spread across the country "so nobody is left behind".

"There should be no digital divide - every individual and every business should have the skills and confidence to make the most of digital technology and have easy access to high-quality internet wherever they live, work, travel or learn," she commented.

Josh Hardie, deputy director-general of the CBI, added that UK companies are at "the forefront of the digital revolution".

He said the government's pledges in the digital strategy underline the commitment among businesses to build the skills that are required in a modern economy and overcome the barriers to technology adoption.

"To uphold our position as a world-leading digital economy businesses, we and the government need to work together," Mr Hardie continued.

"The strategy’s focus on skills, connectivity and innovation provide a useful framework for this."