Tuesday 3 September 2019 4:29 am

Can’t name the UK technology secretary? That’s because we don’t have one

Christian Faes is co-founder and chief executive of LendInvest and chair of the Digital Finance Forum

Do you know who our secretary of state for technology is? Or can you name the tech minister?

No? That’s not surprising, because they don’t exist.

While we all might agree that technology is a key ingredient to a successful and vibrant economy and to our advancement as a society, there is still no one in cabinet meetings solely focused on and accountable for the government’s policies on it.

The closest we come to a senior official responsible for technology is Nicky Morgan, secretary of state for digital, culture, media & sport.

She is concerned with everything from dealing with encryption and data harvesting to promoting sport and culture throughout the country, and has an unfathomable amount on her plate before we even consider technology. 

In our recent inaugural survey for the Digital Finance Forum, we asked technology entrepreneurs around the country for ideas about how the government could help our sector. One of the best supported suggestions was for the government to appoint its first technology secretary, to be directly accountable and solely responsible for technology innovation and the implementation of those policies in the UK. 

We should recognise that technology and its transformation is the new normal. Almost every business established in the last 20 years might consider itself a tech business in some way – technology is the seam running through companies of every size and in every industry across the country.

Take fintech: it is really just a sector made up of new financial services businesses. You wouldn’t start a finance company today without technology at the core part of your offering, making you a “fintech” from the get-go. 

And within a newly-minted Department for Technology, the government would be able to appoint a team solely focused on the areas like this where the UK truly dominates.

Across the channel, the French are already at it. In April, President Emmanuel Macron made one of his closest advisers, Cedric O, secretary of state for the digital economy as part of a long-standing international competition to come out on top for technology. He is charged with promoting, protecting and amplifying the potential of the French tech ecosystem. 

As a fintech founder myself, I know that the government has in the past done a brilliant job of championing a new way for financial services.

However, as the Digital Finance Forum survey shows, there is definitely a concern that it is starting to become complacent. We may be the world leader in fintech at the moment, but two thirds of survey respondents were not so sure about how we would fare over the next five years.

Fintech has its parliamentary champions, but no one in government is really charged with seeing through an agenda that keeps the UK competitive. 

The brief for fintech fits into the remit of the economic secretary, whose responsibilities also stretch between banking reform, financial stability and PRA mandate, how the City handles Brexit, City competitiveness, bank levies and tax policy, promoting women in finance, anti-money laundering, and debt management policy. 

Is this endless list the right place to shoehorn in sole responsibility for a sector that contributes billions of pounds to the UK economy every year and has the potential to contribute many times more in the near future?  

A Department for Technology, overseen by a new technology secretary, would have the capacity and space for a proper, full time fintech minister who recognises the contribution it makes to the UK economy, employment and inward private investment, and would match it with committed representation and policymaking.

This is no longer a nice-to-have idea, but a serious proposal backed by entrepreneurs that deserves consideration. 

At a unique time in British history, where uncertainty reigns and it feels like there is as much to lose as there is to gain, we need to give technology a seat at the highest table and a voice in the decisions this country makes. 

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.