Tuesday 16 February 2021 6:00 am

Adapt and thrive: There's a £200bn prize for British firms willing to embrace new ideas

Peter Kelly is Managing Director of Virgin Media Business

After the toughest of years, many businesses are still reeling from the impact of Covid-19. Shuttered high streets and closed forecourts are the visible scars from a bruising year. 

But alongside this, some businesses are swimming against the tide, with strong profits reported at firms like Next and Jaguar Land Rover. 

Covid-19 shone a spotlight on businesses’ ability to adapt to change. Those that were quick to innovate and pivot have survived and thrived, while those who were slow off the mark are struggling to catch up.

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Now, with the vaccination programme continuing at pace and the Bank of England predicting the economy will recover rapidly this year, businesses in every sector must take stock and reflect on how they can jumpstart their growth in 2021.

Over the past year, I’ve seen first-hand how investment in transformational digital technology has helped organisations and communities make lasting changes for the better. Covid-19 has been a catalyst for innovation: we’ve seen decades of progress delivered in just a few months.

That transformational digital technology is allowing GPs to offer remote appointments, powering virtual classrooms so children can continue learning, helping us stay connected to colleagues through video calls and collaboration tools, and is supporting businesses to set up online marketplaces and automate their services. In short, it’s powering our new everyday.

Now, for the first time, we can quantify the benefits of this investment.  

New research we commissioned with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) has found that sustained investment in transformational digital technology could unlock a £232 billion opportunity for the UK economy by 2040. 

That’s equivalent to adding an economy the size of Finland or South Africa’s to UK GDP.

Seizing this opportunity would unlock billions of pounds of growth in some of the Capital’s biggest sectors. The professional services, construction and retail sectors alone could grow by £40 billion pounds over the next two decades. 

Within the public sector, too, continuing to roll out transformational digital technology across health, government and education, could add £75bn to the economy by 2040. These are not just financial numbers that sit in the national accounts – they represent tangible changes in how public services are delivered which help improve lives. 

For example, we’re working with hospitals to power a Telestroke service that connects patients with specialist consultants wherever they may be. It allows suspected stroke patients to receive a rapid diagnosis 24/7, helping to save lives.

Digital technology is also helping local authorities automate and improve their services. Manual tasks like processing applications can now be done in three hours, rather than three weeks, while freeing up advisors to focus on more complex cases.

But this transformation and economic rebound is not guaranteed. Organisations need to continue investing in digital technology to support a great British bounce back, boost productivity and transform what each of us can achieve in our new everyday. And Government needs to ensure a supportive environment exists to encourage such investment.

Covid-19 has done incalculable damage to so many people’s lives, communities and businesses across the country. This harm can’t be undone, but if we make the right changes now, we have the chance to not simply support an economic rebound, but also to continue transforming public services and create new opportunities for people across the country. 

Hard times have always been a catalyst for innovation. Now we must seize this once-in-a-generation moment to create a better society, a stronger economy and revolutionise the everyday for everyone who lives and works here. 

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