The future of the left since 1884

A time to be brave

We live in a new world order. Traditional political frameworks help explain our environment and the values that drive Britain, but they do not provide a comprehensive strategy to meet the economic and social challenges we face. We need to look...


We live in a new world order. Traditional political frameworks help explain our environment and the values that drive Britain, but they do not provide a comprehensive strategy to meet the economic and social challenges we face.

We need to look beyond those parameters, connect our values with the non-usual suspects and join the dots across our new landscape. Above all, in a world where policy decisions impact on the future of the young more than ever, they must be given a greater voice in the decision-making process.

We know that the digital revolution is transforming the way we live, work and interact – and that it offers a conduit to a more prosperous future. Yet YouGov research in 2014 found that only 8 per cent of young people in the UK think schools provide ‘very good’ information and communications technology (ICT) teaching.

Political and industrial upheaval is nothing new, but Britain is at a turning point. It is time to be brave and harness the power of political and technological transformation to build an integrated and sustainable future for Britain. But how?

We are a nation of inventors, scientists and talent, but at present, there is more focus on exporting our education system, innovation and healthcare around the world, helping to improve livelihoods and strengthen societies elsewhere, rather than at home. As a result, the foundation upon which we built that innovation is being eroded.

The skills gap is an ever-widening crevasse in the British economy and meaningful action needs to be taken immediately. The problem is that each generation has entered the digital world at a different stage of life, resulting in different skill sets, priorities and attitudes. We need to level the playing field, and ensure people across the workforce benefit from new skills and new partnerships and forms of integration.

That demands strong and responsive leadership to embed the new practices and culture necessary to bridge the generational divide and drive learning, creativity and growth.

Continuous learning is the building block of any economy, but this is especially true for the digital economy. New skills are needed but they are in short supply. Digital literacy and confidence is essential across the generations in order to enable everyone to participate in the digital world.

That needs to be matched with citizenship education. Then, as well as having the digital skills they need to prosper, young people will be empowered to participate in building Britain through an awareness of their rights and obligations (both on and offline). Digital citizenship is essential for the modern workplace, but it can also reinvigorate our connection with principles of social justice and the rule of law.

It’s not just schools that need to do more. We know that making the transition from education to employment can be challenging, so educational institutions, big business and SMEs need to come together locally and regionally to provide learning, employment and work experience opportunities for young people.

Policymakers must also wake up to the fact that traditional career models no longer fit the majority of the new workforce, and career paths are more fluid and less linear. Workplace structures need to respond. There has been a big shift away from the career ladder most senior managers have climbed, and yet they are tasked with overseeing this transformation. In emerging sectors in particular, young people often have more expertise and experience than those in senior positions, making their input critical for intelligent planning.

Open government is critical, as we adapt to our new digital world. Technology is the means to make that happen, enabling access to information, civic participation and strong central and local government communication. This in turn builds trust and accountability, and allows for a more agile administrative infrastructure that can respond to the demands of this fast changing world.

Although legacy infrastructure may make that more challenging for Britain to implement compared to new or emerging states, it is not an excuse for falling short of best practice.

Open government means leading by example in knowledge sharing and trust and integrity in data management.  In turn, Britain can take the lead in the development of robust digital and legislative infrastructure that supports the economy, safeguards individual rights and provides interoperable solutions at local, national and international levels.

One example of this would be open contracting. Billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is spent on third party contracts with government. Open contracting – the online publication of government procurement contracts – would help to reduce costs, opens up business opportunities to SMEs and increase public oversight and accountability.

It’s a simple idea that can be translated more broadly to international development, including climate finance and provide business with greater oversight over their supply chains, helping to manage risk and meet the demands of greater scrutiny whilst supporting sustainable growth.

The principle that must run through all of these changes is inclusivity. Political, social and industrial transformation has the potential to divide, isolate and weaken – but it also holds the promise and potential of an inclusive, integrated and sustainable future.

Neither the market nor technology is destiny. We have the power to curate our future, but we need to have the courage to invest and empower individuals, communities, business and government to do things differently – Britain’s future depends on it.


Alice Gartland

Alice Gartland is an independent consultant working with a variety of clients on policy, business development and community engagement relating to digital futures, foreign direct investment, water risk and development, corporate accountability and corruption, the rule of law, and China.

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