Barclays chief warns of UK digital deficit

Lynsey Barber
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Other countries could leave us trailing with digital technology (Source: Getty)

The UK is beating its rivals when it comes to embracing digital technology but risks being usurped by smaller countries, putting the country’s economic growth and productivity at risk, Barclays’ top boss in Britain has warned.

“We urgently need to secure London and the UK as the world’s pre-eminent powerhouse of tech innovation as well as make sure that the UK has the digital skills and expertise to compete globally across all sectors and industries," said the bank's UK chief executive Ashok Vaswani, commenting on the release of the Barclays Digital Development Index.

The UK came fourth overall in the index, which ranks countries according to measures combining citizen's skills and government policy on digital technology. It came ahead of rival economies such as the US and China but it is behind smaller upstarts Estonia, South Korea and Sweden.

Read more: MPs call for post-Brexit digital plan - or risk UK's fintech success

"At a time when the UK is considering its future outside the European Union, we have to remember that competing in the digital economy isn’t simply a European question, it’s about a global race that will define how prosperous and successful we are for decades to come," said Vaswani.

The lack of digital know-how is costing the UK economy £63bn in lost GDP every year, according to the latest research from the governments science and technology committee.

The UK outperformed its rivals in terms of digital policy such as infrastructure and education according to the digital index, however, it falls behind them when it comes to individuals' confidence and capability with digital technology leaving Brazil, China, India and the US all speeding ahead.

The report comes as MPs called on the government to publish its delayed digital strategy for the country and to factor in the impact of Brexit on the digital economy, or risk losing its status as a world leader.

Read more: Half of workers think better tech skills could land them a better job

“The digital agenda is a very significant agenda,” said Vaswani, speaking to City A.M.. “It's a global race and the government, private and public sector all need to push this agenda.”

“We have to get people being digital creators, not just consumers. It’s about not just inclusion, but empowerment,” said Vaswani, adding that he’s confident that the government will continue to push the digital agenda, despite the complicated matter of Brexit - “and hopefully with even more vigour”.

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