Making data work for everyone

The government recently responded to the National Data Strategy consultation, including a focus on partnership, trust, and international leadership.

Data is at the heart of today’s economies. We’re estimated to have generated 44 zettabytes of data (that’s 44 followed by 21 zeroes), which is many times more data than stars in the universe. Data has powered everything from medical breakthroughs that have helped tackle Covid-19 to food waste reduction initiatives. In September 2020, the UK government set out its stall on data when it published the National Data Strategy, a framework for the action that it would take to harness data in the UK, to benefit business, policymakers, and society.

The CBI responded to the National Data Strategy consultation, setting out the steps we believe the UK should take to unlock the benefits of data, as well as mitigating potential risks. This blog outlines the business priorities the CBI identified, sets out how the government’s response to the consultation reflects our recommendations, and goes through how the we’ll continue to engage with the government on data.

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The government’s response echoes many of the priorities and proposals the CBI advocated for, including:

  • Highlighting trust as an opportunity for innovation and technology adoption in the UK, and leadership internationally. For society and the economy to benefit fully from data, the UK’s data ecosystem must spur both trust and innovation – providing clarity that supports people, businesses, and public sector bodies to share their data.

    We’re pleased that government’s response emphasises the importance of making data work for everyone. For example, it commits to a data rights regime that promotes trust and responsible data use and robust data protection standards, to support work on data institutions (which steward data on behalf of others), and for government to lead by example in building trust in its own use of data – all of which the CBI advocated for.
  • Strong partnership and rigorous engagement with firms across the UK is recognised as vital to harness data to its full potential. The pandemic illustrated how much can be achieved in a short period through business-government partnership and clear goals. Across numerous challenges, collaboration between industry and the public sector helped the UK to harness the expertise needed to manage the crisis, from Nightingale hospitals to vaccine development. The CBI called for this momentum to be maintained, with business and government partnership in the data space vital to help the UK maximise the opportunity and ensure the benefits of data-driven innovation reach everyone.

    To support an open and collaborative approach, government has launched a National Data Strategy Forum. The Forum will draw together experts from a cross-section of stakeholder groups, enabling welcome collaboration across the data landscape. If you’re interested in participating, you can find out more including how to sign up here.

  • The UK should take a leadership role on the global stage, working closely with international partners to shape rules, norms, and standards. A key business priority is maintaining the UK’s mantle as a global hub for the data flows that underpin sectors from logistics to financial services. The CBI highlighted the opportunity for the UK to set an ambitious and transparent independent data transfers regime to strike trusted data partnerships with economies around the world. With cross-border data flows increasingly at risk, the UK must champion robust and trusted mechanisms that place them on a sustainable footing.

    Closely reflecting our recommendations, the government has stated that it will shortly announce its priority countries for data adequacy assessment, as well as working to agree ambitious data provisions in trade agreements. It will also play an important diplomatic role, bringing together international regulators, governments, and industry to influence the rules, norms, and standards that govern data – and we have already welcomed the leadership shown by the UK at the G7

  • The NDS highlights that now is the time to take a bolder approach to climate change. Never has it been more important for coordinated business and government action to tackle climate change. Businesses emphasise the role that digital technologies and data can play to address emissions, while recognising the need to mitigate the risks to sustainability that data can pose. In our consultation response, the CBI called for the National Data Strategy to go further, advocating a principles-based approach to achieve a just transition to net zero and support for businesses across sectors to maximise the use of data within their own net zero strategies.

    Positively, the government stated in its response that it will explore ways of maximising the UK’s COP26 presidency to draw international attention to the role that digital technologies and data can play in tackling climate change, while working closely with the tech sector to ensure that data-driven technologies fulfil their role in supporting the UK’s transition to net zero.

What’s next?

The National Data Strategy was a promising step forward. Now, the CBI will continue to engage with our members and the government as it’s taken forward. We’ll also monitor the progress of further interventions like the government’s planned policy framework to focus its role in enabling better data availability in the wider economy, and the progress of digital ID, which will be vital to help UK citizens to harness data.

Resources for businesses

CBI members who want to maximise the value of their data and data-driven technologies can access our practical guidance for businesses:

Published by felicityburch

Felicity Burch is the Director of Innovation and Digital at the Confederation of British Industry. She is also an adviser to the trade association, Sharing Economy UK.

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