Despite emerging as a global force, fast-growth tech companies enjoyed no representation at Cabinet before the election, and the policy brief was buried within the Department for Media, Culture and Sport.
Yet the stats speak volumes: the digital sector – spanning 12 industries – contributes 16 per cent of GDP, 24 per cent of UK exports, record levels of investment (billions more than the car making or manufacturing sectors) and creates the high-skilled, well-paid jobs the country so desperately needs.
Fresh data by London and Partners shows that the first half of 2017 has seen a record £1.4bn of venture capital funding into tech startups. In comparison, the car making industry received just £322mn.
But this past year, the Cabinet remained all but silent about the potential of the sector in the media, while respected plaudits failed to acknowledge the importance of the sector to our future outside the EU.
Indeed, the political titan Andrew Neil mocked the digital minister on live TV last year: “The minister for digital policy… whatever that means!” he laughed during an interview at the Conservative Conference.
Yet this is no laughing matter.
The future of our country depends on the digital sector entering a golden age, so we can seize the opportunities and become the go-to global leader for investment, talent and innovators, far out-pacing the European competition snapping at our heels.
In turn, the benefits to our economy will encourage growth across the country and help spread tech-led prosperity.
But if the Government gets this wrong, we may be forced to watch from the sidelines as global talent flees, capital flows overseas and, of most importance, we badly let down the future of our country, with navel-gazing and political squabbling that paralyses decisive policy action.
Progress has been made since the election. The new Government Digital Economy Council, Chaired by Karen Bradley, the Secretary of State at DCMS, met this week for the first time and the Secretary of State will be a critical and supportive voice for the sector at the Cabinet table.
The inclusion of ‘digital’ as part of the DCMS title rebrand was long overdue, even if it’s easily criticised as mere window dressing.
But these measures pale in comparison with the Prime Minister’s natural leaning to clamp down on the sector, and a Home Office that’s both making a land grab for digital policy as part of its counter-terrorism strategy, while imposing crippling bureaucracy on our fastest-growing digital companies.
If the Prime Minister does not change tack, then the knock-on effect will ripple right across Whitehall, as this is a sector that crosses every single ministerial brief: future digital trade deals, upskilling young people and retraining older workers, reducing fraud and error in our benefits system, effective mental health support, new health innovations that can save lives and reduce pressure on the NHS… the list is long, and offers a genuine lifeline to our embattled and weary Government.
New meaning and purpose is urgently needed post-election to help govern the country and heal ever widening rifts.
The digital sector can be that lifeline, but it needs the whole of government to embrace its potential and help propel the country towards a positive and prosperous future.